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Flights to apartment clean-ups: What it takes to close up the season immediately, explains Belfast Giants chief



Safe passage: Bobby Farnham was home quickly

Safe passage: Bobby Farnham was home quickly

William Cherry/Presseye

Safe passage: Bobby Farnham was home quickly

It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks for the Belfast Giants after the cancellation of the remainder of the Elite League (EIHL) season due to the coronavirus pandemic, and only now are things returning to a sense of normality.

After two of their own players entered self-isolation the morning of their game against the Nottingham Panthers on March 13 - both were precautionary and not positive cases - things escalated dramatically, with the EIHL making their announcement only hours later and the office at the SSE Arena whipping up into a frenzy of activity.

Between head coach Adam Keefe, head of hockey operations Steve Thornton and project manager Shane Johnson, plans had to be put in place for each player to return home as quickly as possible, a feat made harder when US president Donald Trump announced travel restrictions from Europe on the same day.

But, through hard work and determination, the Giants prevailed. The first two players, Bobby Farnham and Jordan Smotherman, flew out on the Sunday, and over the next two weeks the remainder of the roster dispersed back to their homes in North America or across the UK.

But even then the flights were just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface there's been even more work going on, and it's a testament to the efforts done by the entire Giants backroom staff that they got through it all relatively unscathed.

"There's more to it than just getting players onto flights, there's apartments to be packed up and cleaned, cars to be returned. There's a lot that we go through at the end of a season and it had to be done in a short span," explained Keefe.

"We also weren't prepared for it, it happened very quickly, so everybody had to be aware of that. Everybody did a great job under the circumstances of getting things tied up and getting the players home safely.

"Everyone calls Johnny (Shane Johnson) the travel agent! He did a great job organising, and Steve was great helping out with finding all the information we needed while the situation was changing so rapidly."

In the meantime, hockey has been placed firmly on the backburner as the team ensure they're taking every precaution necessary during the pandemic.

When they do return to discussing hockey issues, there's the matter of recruitment for next season to mull over, as well as the financial hit of missing out on four home games at the tail end of the season, but right now that doesn't matter to Keefe, who has backed the league's decision to suspend all play.

"The last week leading up to those games against Nottingham were normal, but then the news escalated fairly quickly. Then with countries closing down and with all the premier sporting leagues shutting down as well, it was a bit crazy," added Keefe.

"It was a bit chaotic once the league took the decision to close, trying to get players home. In the end we got there and I'm happy now that everybody is where they feel comfortable and they're isolating with family.

"It's in times like this that certain things are more important than hockey."

Meanwhile, work is under way to convert part of Scarlets' training ground into a hospital ward amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli will provide additional bed space for hundreds of people on its indoor training pitch, with the aim of being ready for an anticipated peak in demand in May.

The wooden foundations of the makeshift ward now cover the green turf of the pitch and will soon be under the management of doctors from Hywel Dda University Health Board.

Carmarthenshire County Council has also commissioned contractors to turn Carmarthen Leisure Centre and indoor bowls hall the Selwyn Samuel Centre into bed space for the NHS.

Council leader Emlyn Dole said: "It is impressive to see both the scale of work and the pace at which staff are working to get these facilities ready. None of us wish we were ever in this position but I want to thank our officers, contractors and staff at each venue for working tirelessly to respond to this crisis."

Belfast Telegraph