Athlone Town are set for a long period without any playing action following the recent announcement by the FAI, with an earlier directive regarding the cessation of all football until the end of the month proving to be optimistic.
The FAI and the National League executive committee have now set the weekend beginning June 19 as a target date for the resumption of league action in the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic. The decision was made after all the clubs were represented at a tele-conference conducted from FAI headquarters. It was agreed to work together to play as many matches as possible this season to minimise the impact on attendances and sponsorship.
Athlone Town’s campaign ended prematurely following the visit to take on Galway United in the EA Sports Cup at Eamonn Deacy Park. Just two league games had been played by the Town, both of which had also ended in defeat. The chance to collect their first three points is now some months away.
The new plan is based around UEFA guidelines on a return to club action across Europe. This decision will hopefully see both divisions resume again on the planned date. The Premier Division is most affected and will now finish in early December. The second leg of the promotion/relegation play-off will end the season and could see Athlones campaign stretch for almost the entire calendar year were they to be involved.
Other decisions made will see the FAI cup final go ahead as scheduled in November but the EA Sports Cup will be deferred. Adrian Carberry’s men had already made their exit at the first hurdle in Galway.
The new schedule will affect the top-flight clubs the most as the last round of fixtures in the Premier Division have now been cancelled. For Athlone and the other nine First Division clubs, an examination of fulfilling their full programme of 27 games within a timeframe from June to December will take place.
With the Euro 2020 being deferred until summer 2021, the mid-season break will now be taken up with domestic games. Athlone were due to take on Shamrock Rovers II at the Tallaght Stadium before the break and resume with a home game against Bray Wanderers at the end of June. An amended fixture list will throw new light on where Athlone are to play. Bray were also due to be the opposition for the last league game of 2020 in September. The extended season will still have some way to go by then. UEFA hope to have European football back up and running by early June at the latest so June 19 is a realistic target.
The lay off has already affected some clubs. Galway United and Drogheda United were two of the bigger spenders in the First Division and suffer the consequences of having no matchday income. While making no comment, Athlone Town would appear to be able to cope better than most. Being prudent with regard to the first team budget has left the club less vulnerable to the loss of income.