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Irish League players' mental wellbeing must be considered before return to action, says Howard Beverland



Crusaders defender Howard Beverland

Crusaders defender Howard Beverland

Crusaders defender Howard Beverland

Crusaders defender Howard Beverland has questioned whether players will be in the right frame of mind to play football again if the game returns in the coming weeks.

There's an understandable burning desire to finish the league season but before any decision is made the health and wellbeing of the players must be seriously considered.

An option being floated is to play matches behind closed doors, but would players be comfortable with that solution?

With all football in Northern Ireland suspended until April 4 and a reluctance to play in June or July, time is running out to conclude the campaign and a shortened season may be the answer.

Clubs discussed the matter last night in a conference call but decisions can't be made with any certainty because no one knows how long the coronavirus crisis will last.

Beverland is interested to know how the players would feel at being asked to play football when supporters are kept out of grounds for health and safety reasons.

"Everybody's wellbeing is paramount but do we want to put players at risk?" asked the former Coleraine skipper.

"I think players would have genuine concerns, even with playing behind closed doors.

"Players need to be free from distractions and mentally focused. Can we do that when there's a pandemic?

"There's a mental aspect to football, it's not simply physical.

"We have kids and elderly relatives too.

"Football is important and a way of life for many but there are bigger things than football.

"You need governments to make clear decisions but there is a lot of anxiety around.

"It's a situation we have never encountered before and don't know how to deal with."

A Linfield player who tested positive for the virus is recovering well but it's also possible that other players are not aware they are carrying the virus.

"We've already had one player who has tested positive for the virus and the club, to their credit, acted swiftly," added Beverland.

"Clubs are on alert and of course players are not immune from this disease.

"I'd be interested to know how players feel, would they feel safe and want to finish the season?

"This can impact their families and young children.

"I don't see us getting the season finished in a normal match day scenario with supporters.

"You could consider playing games behind closed doors but you have to consider the wellbeing of the players as well.

"You are reducing mass gatherings but you will also have 36 players to look after and backroom staff.

"There is a lot of close contact with other players when you're playing games."

Calls for the Irish FA to consider financial compensation for clubs is also growing and no club will be immune from those cash flow concerns.

Beverland added: "If you look at the good things that are happening in local football from the improved attendances to a more full-time professional model, improvements from the grassroots level, it's okay to celebrate the progress but the authorities need to stick with the clubs in the down times as well.

"They should recognise the financial implications of what we are going through and be prepared to support clubs.

"It's easy to look at collective success but you also need the right approach to keep clubs thriving.

"The game needs to keep ticking over.

"People will look at teams like Crusaders and Linfield and think they will be okay but all the clubs will take a hit. It's a testing time for clubs.

"Outside of the playing staff you have other workers who are paid, including the social club, chefs and bar staff.

"I feel the financial pressures were there even before the virus arrived.

"Think of outgoings and overheads and players' wages.

"European money is massive for clubs and full-time models are based on those objectives.

"Players earn their contracts and all of a sudden there are no games so what do managers do?"

There are big issues still to be resolved in local football from promotion and relegation to the European places, league titles and Sadler's Peaky Blinder Irish Cup semi-finals and final.

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