Six-time league title winner, Crusaders defender Billy Joe Burns, says he fears Covid-19 testing is not the magic solution that will steer the Irish League through this crisis.
Burns, the 2016 Ulster Footballer of the Year and one of the most successful and experienced players in the game, has battled the virus along with the rest of his family and he also lost his uncle Vincent at the start of the pandemic. The defender, who has won three league titles at both Linfield and Crusaders, had to spend some time away from Seaview while he was recuperating after contracting the virus that ripped through his family.
Six Danske Bank Premiership matches will go ahead today, including Crusaders' home clash with Larne (12.30pm), after players and staff underwent Covid-19 testing on Thursday.
It marks the league's return to action after a short break dubbed a two-week 'circuit-breaker'.
The season was halted on January 9 by the Northern Ireland Football League, backed by the Irish FA, after some players, officials and referees raised concerns. Although the NI Executive allows elite sport to continue behind closed doors, NIFL's move reflected concerns within the game played largely by part-time players.
Clubs could be fined or docked points if found guilty of breaching Covid-19 guidelines and the testing has been warmly welcomed by players, including Crues ace Burns - but he has good reason to remain wary.
"I'm not convinced the testing is a solution," he said. "Yes, it is to be welcomed, but for me there are still concerns. This virus spreads quickly and I fear teams having to self-isolate again.
"Players are asking questions about the protocols just like everyone else."
Burns added: “It was my understanding that close contacts of a positive case would have to self-isolate for 10 days. Players train together so they are close contacts.
“It’s good to see testing, but everyone’s circumstances are different and some players will be concerned at bringing the virus home to their family.
“I had it a few weeks ago and it was bad enough. I was bed ridden for a few days before recovering, but you still experience a shortness of breath, even when I returned to training.
“I’ve still to go to work, and with the midweek games are we still just getting tested once a week? I don’t think testing is a magic answer but it’s better than nothing. Once a game kicks off there’s no social distancing. You can talk about curtailing goal celebrations but will that make a difference when players are all over each other during a game?
“None of us are experts but players’ safety should be put first.”
Burns believes he got the virus in his family environment.
“I think I picked it up in my mum’s house,” he added. “She works in a crèche in the hospital and she could have picked it up there. My whole family ended up getting the virus. My mum tested positive and then I did, so I stayed away from the club for two weeks.
“At the start of the pandemic, my uncle Vincent passed away after contracting the virus. He was disabled and in his 50s but was healthy. I just feel it’s strange we are allowed to train and play football when others have to stay at home. At football you have about 40 different households coming together, which is the opposite of the government guidelines. But the players will get on with it.”
Burns and his team-mates face high-flying Larne in north Belfast.
“The early kick-off can throw your routine off a bit but you have to adapt,” he added.
“Larne are title contenders. They won’t say that because they will want to go under the radar but some people will say it’s a two-horse race between them and Linfield. We want to win to keep up with the leaders.”