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Jim Ervin: Irish League chiefs will not risk players' health with return to action


Ballymena United captain and former Linfield hero Jim Ervin believes the Irish FA and Northern Ireland Football League will not put the health of players at risk during the coronavirus crisis.


While football in Northern Ireland has been suspended indefinitely, there remains a desire to finish the season this summer.

The virus, though, could easily spread in a changing room and it would be wrong to resume playing if there's a risk of infection to players, coaching staff, referees or supporters, Ervin believes.

Without a vaccine, a second wave of cases is possible and one Linfield player tested positive last month, forcing him and his team-mates to self-isolate.

Social distancing rules would need to be lifted but if another player contracted the virus, the game could end up shutting down for a second time. Ervin understands players can't be forced into action but he trusts the governing bodies to make the right decisions.

"There are obvious health concerns around a dressing room, of course," said the Sky Blues skipper.

"You'll have 25 players and about 10 coaching and other staff packed in there and, if you have 35 people in there, it's a lot of bodies in close contact.

"It's true that players don't have to play if they are worried. We are well aware of that but clubs should discuss these matters.

"You can't do anything on lockdown but the Irish FA and NIFL must listen to the best medical and scientific advice.

"The governing bodies will assess the advice they get and I'm confident they will make the right call. It's a tough decision and I don't envy them making it.

"Precautions will be taken and everyone will play their part. We've got to assess the health crisis, week by week, and return when we believe it is safe to do so."

The Irish FA have extended their suspension of football in Northern Ireland until May 31.

Experienced defender Ervin, who joined United from Linfield in 2014, remains in the dark over whether the 2019-20 campaign will be concluded.

David Jeffrey’s side can still claim a Europa League place by winning the Irish Cup. But the highs and lows of football have been put sharply into focus by the pandemic and Ervin is ready to respect whatever tough decision NIFL and the Irish FA make.

“I think everyone will have to try and respect the decisions taken because we are experiencing something we haven’t dealt with before,” added the 34-year-old. “With the virus out there, there is a health risk but we must stick to the government guidelines.

“The players haven’t been told to return to training so we will need advice on that.

“I would imagine the IFA and NIFL will come up with a suitable time for a return. You are hoping something can be planned but it’s impossible because these are very difficult times and no one knows when the pandemic will lift. At the moment we can’t predict the future.

“I don’t know if we can finish the season and I don’t envy anyone trying to make that decision. There is no easy answer and it’s no one’s fault.”

Belfast Telegraph