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Dublin: 7 °C Monday 1 June, 2020

7 big questions for Irish football as Uefa call off Slovakia play-off again

When is the game likely to be played? And what happens with the McCarthy/Kenny succession plan?

Mick McCarthy.
Mick McCarthy.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Updated Apr 1st 2020, 8:07 PM

NEWS OF SORTS from Uefa today: the football that is presently suspended will remain suspended for the foreseeable future. The governing body held a video conference meeting with the CEOs of all 55 member associations as they try to grapple with the Covid-19 crisis. 

That means that Ireland’s Euro 2020 play-off with Slovakia has been postponed again, and won’t take place in June. This time, no refixed date has been set.

The Irish women’s qualifier with Ukraine, also fixed for June, has been called off as well, while all Uefa competitions remain suspended indefinitely.

The outcomes chime with everyone’s reality at the moment: nobody knows when this is going to end. There are no refixed dates on anything bar the European Championships, as football makes like the rest of us in hunkering down and hoping this storm will quickly pass. 

Today’s news poses plenty of questions for Irish football…albeit with agonisingly few answers. 

When is the Slovakia play-off actually going to be played? 

We don’t know. Uefa haven’t set a date on it, and while reports earlier this week suggested it would happen in September, our understanding is that date is one of a number of different scenarios Uefa are considering for the game. Who can plan in the teeth of a crisis like this? 

Why can’t they just cancel the Nations League to make space for it at the end of the year? 

They could do that, although it’s not entirely straightforward. Centralised TV deals have been agreed based on the Nations League happening, and it is the distribution of that money which helps to fund football activity in Europe’s smaller nations.

We are an example of how difficult scrapping the competition would be, as the FAI have needed the early drawdown of this TV money to keep afloat since John Delaney went on his merry way. 

Only last month the FAI membership agreed to accept a €14 million loan from Uefa, which will be repaid at €2.5 million a year from the TV money owed.

It could, of course, be postponed in the spirit of crossing bridges when we come to them.

stephen-kenny Stephen Kenny. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

What happens with the McCarthy/Kenny succession plan? 

It seems like Delaney and the old FAI board did not choose their managers with the outbreak of a generation-defining pandemic in mind. This is now an unholy mess.

Here’s what we know: McCarthy’s contract ends on 31 July this year and Kenny’s begins on 1 August, dates which aligned with the original Uefa calendar, which allowed McCarthy remain in charge for the duration of Ireland’s interest in Euro 2020.

Now, however, the time is out of joint. 

There is an argument to stick by the agreed dates, as Denmark are doing with their plan to replace Age Hareide with Kasper Hjulmand. Equally, there is an argument for the other side, too.

Fifa are expected to allow the expiring player contracts be extended from 30 June to the end of this season – whenever that may be – so there may be an equally relevant precedent set here. 

A difficult decision awaits the FAI board. 

What’s happening with the League of Ireland? 

At the moment, everyone is working toward a resumption on 19 June, but this is subject to the approval of the government and public health officials. In light of today’s news from Uefa – and adjacent news, too, like the cancelling of Wimbledon, set for the end of June – makes this look increasingly optimistic. 

Another reality is that the clubs scheduled to play European qualifiers – Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Derry City – will see their ties postponed and potentially decided over one leg, rather than two. 

And the Irish women’s team? 

Vera Pauw’s side are existing in an even murkier state of limbo at the moment, as Euro 2021 in England has yet to be officially rescheduled, although it looks like an inevitability. 

They do at least know that the qualifier with Ukraine in June has been called off. 

What about the European club competitions? 

Multiple reports today suggest that Uefa’s priority is to finish the domestic seasons as soon as possible. This is a financial imperative for Uefa, as the sooner they are done, the sooner next season’s competitions can crank into gear and allow revenue flow again.

There has been no instruction to void seasons. 

a-general-view-of-the-aviva-stadium-during-the-game A packed house for Ireland's Euro 2020 qualifier with Denmark last November. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

How are the FAI going to cope with all of this? 

This crisis is posing major financial questions for every sporting body, including the FAI. The FAI’s reality is the same as the GAA’s or the IRFU’s: if there are no games, the money stops flowing. 

The FAI are extremely reliant on income from the senior international men’s team playing games in Dublin, and that there won’t be a single international game in the Aviva throughout all of 2020 is becoming a possibility.

The Association have implemented pay deferrals amid the crisis, with top earners – including Mick McCarthy and Stephen Kenny – taking a 50% hit for now.

Repayments on the Aviva Stadium and thus the keeping of the banks from the door are at least guaranteed by the government bailout from earlier this year, but hopes that 2020 might be a rebirth for Irish football after last year’s omnishambles look mightily optimistic now. 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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