FFA upbeat over A-League restart as NSW prepares go-ahead for Melbourne teams

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Football Federation Australia is confident the NSW government will grant a border waiver within 24 hours, allowing the three marooned Melbourne teams to travel to Sydney to complete the A-League season.

Leaning heavily on the precedent of previous exemptions issued to Wellington Phoenix, NRL outfit New Zealand Warriors and Super Netball players during the COVID-19 lockdown period, the governing body believes Melbourne City, Western United and Melbourne Victory will get the all-clear.

That could see all the teams on planes to NSW as early as Friday for a helter-skelter schedule of 27 games in 28 days, before the finals.

It’s understood that FFA CEO James Johnson, fresh from resolving the stand-off with broadcast rights holder Fox Sports, has interceded personally to handle high level talks with state health minister Brad Hazzard.

With the recent separation of powers ceding control of the competition from the FFA to the clubs, Johnson has, until this point, not been involved in the logistical nitty-gritty, nor the missteps which have seen the clubs twice travel to Tullamarine airport only to turn back following Monday’s closer of the Victoria-NSW border.

Head of Leagues Greg O’Rourke has been instrumental in pulling the levers. And he’s been left red-faced with 10 AFL teams decamping Victoria last week for their Queensland hub whilst their A-League counterparts remained stranded.

A source close to FFA said: “Fine details are being ironed out (with government) and nothing has been approved yet.

“But the expectation is the teams will travel and the season will be able to resume.”

The impending government go-ahead comes three days after Deputy Premier John Barilaro indicated authorities were amenable to facilitating a speedy resolution to save the A-League season, which was shut down in mid-March in response to COVID-19.

Fox Sports reports that both Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory plan to fly into Sydney at 10am on Friday, before going into a mandatory quarantine for 14 days.

Players are set to share budget accommodation and sleep in bunkbeds at a training base in Narrabeen on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

With the competition set to resume next Thursday when Victory face United, one club boss said the “semi-quarantine” environments all three squads had been living in over the past three weeks presented a compelling case, despite the border with Victoria being closed after a surge in coronavirus infections in Melbourne.

“I think the clubs concerned had all the correct protocols in place to convince government they are no-risk travelers and this will ultimately be a storm in a tea cup looking back,” he said.

“Players and staff have been getting tested every few days in risk-proof environments.

“We’re not talking about the general public who are engaged in normal living conditions.

“They have been in semi-quarantine conditions for a while now and I’m sure this counted for a lot.

“The 105 people involved have been living in a tight testing regime, are showing no signs of infection and have been nowhere near the (infection) hotspots.”

It’s understood players from all three squads were tested as recently as Monday.

The teams were thwarted by fog in their initial attempt to fly to Canberra on Monday night.

And, in slapstick scenes, were left lingering on the tarmac again on Tuesday when it became clear the ACT government would enforce a strict two-week quarantine before permitting onward passage to NSW.

The club chief believes O’Rourke has been unfairly vilified for the travel traumas which have sparked disquiet among players and fans.

“To give Greg credit, he was told on Friday there was no way the borders would be shut, but still went ahead and booked the charter flight,” the source added.

“He’s been trying to look around corners and second guess everything for weeks and has probably drawn up 100 match schedules to cater for different permutations.

“It’s regrettable that we got so close and on two occasions did go to the airport.

“But ultimately the right call was made or we’d have ended up in a quarantine situation in Canberra.

“The politics are difficult but there were too many people pulling in the right direction for this not to happen.

“We’re in the midst of a pandemic and there were always going to be unforeseen complexities.”