The Traveling Wilburys song ‘End Of The Line’ came to mind when I looked at the SSE Airtricity League Premier and First Division tables on Saturday evening. We are nearing the final station, but will we get there? Will our season – already truncated by COVID-19, be further stalled? Will we finish at all, or face a choice between abandoning the season or accepting the standings at a particular point in time as the final standings?
It’s a strange situation to be in but then these are strange times. This has already been the most extraordinary of seasons; who’s to say it won’t have a few more surprises. If this was a race then the runners have rounded the last bend, only to face a severe wind that is making it difficult for them to keep moving forward.
I think the fear that things mightn’t get to a conclusion is very real. Several matches were postponed this weekend due to squad members testing positive for COVID. With the numbers spiking nationwide, the fear is that this will continue and lead to a full lockdown again, with the cessation of all sport an unwelcome consequence. Perhaps this will already have happened between the writing and publication of this column.
With each division of 10 reduced to two rounds of games that makes for 18 match days of five games in each division or 90 games in each. As of Saturday the Premier Division has seen 74 games take place, with the tally rising to 76 if the games scheduled for Sunday and Monday go ahead. The First Division is a bit farther along, with 82 games completed. Still, the image of the fairground high striker almost – but not quite – reaching the jackpot bell comes to mind.
What would be the reaction amongst clubs if it came to a choice between ending the season incomplete, or declaring it null and void? In England the clubs in League One and League Two voted to end the 2019-20 season incomplete, and accept the promotion and relegation placings that this landed. That’s what I’d expect the clubs to vote for here, if it came to it.
Hopefully I’m wrong, and the games can be concluded. It will depend on COVID-19. I’d like to see Bray Wanderers crowned First Division champions after 18 games rather than 16 or 17. I’d rather if the relegation of either Cork or Finn Harps was settled by a full schedule of games, likewise the European battle between Sligo, Pats, Waterford and Dundalk, and the play-off battle in the First Division.