Football Association of Ireland Chief Executive Jonathan Hill has assured League of Ireland clubs of the Association’s full support ahead of the new season and thanked all involved for getting football back on the pitch tonight. The SSE Airtricity P
Football Association of Ireland Chief Executive Jonathan Hill has assured League of Ireland clubs of the Association’s full support ahead of the new season and thanked all involved for getting football back on the pitch tonight.
The SSE Airtricity Premier Division 2021 season gets underway at Head In The Game Park at 5.45pm this evening when Drogheda United play Waterford FC in the opening match of the new campaign.
Champions Shamrock Rovers then welcome St Patrick’s Athletic for a Dublin derby behind closed doors at Tallaght Stadium in front of the RTE TV cameras with a 7.45pm kick-off.
Saturday’s schedule of games completes the first round of fixtures when newly promoted Longford Town host Derry City, Sligo Rovers welcome Dundalk and Bohemian FC travel to Finn Harps, all with 6pm starts and all live on WATCHLOI.
Speaking ahead of the new season, FAI CEO Hill said: “The excitement is building around the return of the League of Ireland this weekend at a time when the country really needs it and I want to wish all the SSE Airtricity Premier Division teams the very best of luck as they bring football back to our pitches and our screens.
“The fans don’t need me to remind them how much COVID-19 has impacted on Irish life in the last 12 months but I would like to remind the clubs and all their staff, volunteers and supporters of our gratitude for the tremendous effort they have made to get our game back.
“To complete the 2020 season in December in the midst of the pandemic was an incredible achievement and the return of live SSE Airtricity Premier Division football tonight is a testament to the hard work of all involved when COVID-19 made demands on them like never seen before.
“To say that the FAI are proud of the fact that League of Ireland football is the first domestic sport to return to play in 2021 is an understatement. We appreciate everything our clubs have done to get us to this point and we know their return will act as a barometer and a catalyst for the return of all Irish sport as soon as it feasible.
“The statistics for our senior 2020 season have proven how safe playing football is in a pandemic. Only 22 positive cases were associated with the League of Ireland last season across the Premier Division, the First Division and the Women’s National League and the HSE have supported our findings that all these cases were community transmissions and did not arise from any football event, playing or training.
“That is powerful evidence when we look for a Return to Play for our Grassroots players, adult and underage, and a Return to Watch at all levels of the game. We understand how serious the current pandemic is, we will continue to abide by all Government guidelines and work with the authorities in the battle against COVID-19 and we appreciate how lucky we are to be back tonight.
“The onus now is on League of Ireland football to continue to behave in such a responsible and controlled manner under the COVID-19 guidelines and prove to everyone that football is safe in the pandemic. I have every faith that all involved will deliver on that responsibility.”
The League of Ireland returns on the back of a commitment by the Board of the FAI to support the clubs as they begin the new season behind closed doors.
The return of WATCHLOI, in association with RTE Sport, across all Premier Division fixtures and the launch of LOITV for all SSE Airtricity First Division and Women’s National League games next weekend will bring football home for the fans.
“We are delighted to support the League again this year with a whole-hearted commitment from the Board to League of Ireland football and the Women’s National League,” added Hill.
“The Board believes in League of Ireland football. I believe in League of Ireland football. We have a product that we can build on, we have an opportunity now in light of COVID-19 and Brexit to develop our game, to grow our game and to give our fans domestic Leagues for men and women that they can be proud of.
“Tonight marks the start of a new season but also the first steps for our game on an exciting new journey. With World Cup qualifying campaigns beginning this year for Stephen Kenny and Vera Pauw’s teams, I believe 2021 is going to be a really exciting year for Irish football and the return of League of Ireland football is the first instalment of that story.
“I want to thank SSE Airtricity for their continuing support for our League, I want to welcome Bank of Ireland on board as associate sponsors and I want to wish every player, every club and every supporter the very best of luck for the season ahead. May we have a great League and the safest League season possible.”