Stephen Baxter hoping the Irish league can avoid another shutdown

Stephen Baxter is hoping the predicted rise in Covid cases does not lead to a shutdown in the Irish League.

By Steven Crawford
Sunday, 19th December 2021, 3:06 pm
Updated Sunday, 19th December 2021, 3:08 pm

Crusaders have already had one enforced lay-off this season after an outbreak of the virus in their camp with three games having to be called off.

With the rising number of cases due to the Omicron variant we have already seen a number of games in the English Premier League postponed.

And although games are still being played in Northern Ireland at the minute there is a fear that it will suffer a similar fate.

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Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter

The Crues boss is hoping that won't happen and revealed his club are testing on a regular basis, but he added safety was the priority first and foremost.

"I personally hope we can fend it off," said Baxter.

"As a football club we are testing twice a week so we have a good idea on where things are.

"Also about 80% of the players have contracted this virus already so we're hoping that may help.

"But I don't know enough about this new variant in terms of if you get over it quicker if you do get it.

"Listening to others it sounds like there is a huge tidal wave of it coming.

"There seems to be big numbers in England at the minute.

"I don't think we're just as bad here.

"Ultimately though we have to do what's right for safety first and foremost and for the wider society.

"If we have to stop then we stop, there's no problem with that.

"From a momentum point of view in terms of a football person you want to try and keep the whole thing ticking over rather than having it start-stop.

"We were a few weeks into the season when we had our Covid break with eleven cases in the camp.

"It disrupted us greatly because we were on a good run at the time.

"We missed three games on the spin and had to try and pick things up again, but it was difficult.

"We had a mixed bag in terms of results after that."

Like all the top leagues across Europe the Danske Bank Premiership was largely played behind closed doors last season.

And last January there was a two-week circuit-breaker with all Irish league games halted.

Baxter is hoping to avoid those scenarios this term given how the league has bounced back this year in terms of crowd numbers, but again he reiterated the point that it will all come down to safety.

"When you look at the huge crowds at places like Coleraine this season which is great after coming out of lockdown when no crowds were allowed, which was just brutal for us all," he said.

"The way the league has picked up everywhere with crowds has been brilliant.

"If we were to have to come back and play in empty stadiums again it would be dreadful.

"I'm hoping that with it being an outdoor event and with the likes of the Covid passport it won't affect us too much.

"But everyone has to stay safe and we have to work it out amongst ourselves, but I hope we can keep it all going."