‘Just not possible’: FFA defends A-League airport farce
For the second time in 24 hours, the A-League season has been left in shambles - with fresh drama rocking the code late on Tuesday night to once again leave Melbourne's three clubs stranded.
Just as it had appeared high-level meetings between Football Federation Australia and the NSW Government had cleared the sides to leave Australia's coronavirus capital with special exemption, the goalposts shifted to leave members of Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and Western United angry, frustrated and stuck at home.
In a statement released close to midnight on Tuesday, the FFA attempted to defend the farcical situation, praised the efforts of the three weary teams and insisted it remained optimistic they would get a special exemption from the NSW government to revive the flagging season.
"We are in discussions the NSW government, and we will continue to seek the exemptions necessary for the teams to travel," head of leagues Greg O'Rourke said.
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"Given the strict league and club protocols our teams have been following since 2 June 2020, combined with the fact we have not had any players or high performance staff return a positive COVID-19 testing result, we feel that we have a very good case to gain the exemptions and get the teams to NSW to complete the Hyundai A-League season, and we will make every attempt to do so."
The fate of the A-League season now hangs in the balance eight days before it is scheduled to relaunch with a Melbourne derby which remains without a venue.
Following Monday's failed 11th-hour attempt by all three teams to sneak across into NSW before the border shutdown which came into play at midnight, it was believed a plan had been hatched to breathe life into the A-League season.
Another late-night flight to Canberra - this time without the looming threat of fog - was again the solution, before a last-minute hitch shattered the FFA's dreams.
The teams hit an unforeseen hurdle when told they would be forced to quarantine for 14 days in Canberra before being able to travel on to NSW, where they had planned to join the A-League hub and finish the season.
That quarantine period would have clashed with Western United's derby clashes with both Victory and City, set to take place in the opening five days of the resumed season.
It ensures the FFA and its three Melbourne clubs face another agonising wait as they seek clarity on how to complete the season.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro had given cause for optimism when he extended an olive branch to FFA, suggesting the A-League could be afforded the same level of sympathy that allowed the NRL to restart in May.
"You've heard me on the NRL and the importance of sport and I think we've got to work with the FFA," he said on Tuesday.
"So I'll be reaching out to the FFA (on Tuesday) and see what support they need.
"But of course, if we've got an opportunity to do so, let's bring them across the border, lets park them in the regions or here in the city and make sure they're part of the A-League that kicks off shortly."
The teams believe they can continue to train in Melbourne, which on Wednesday night will go into a second full lockdown for the next six weeks follow the announcement of a further 191 fresh COVID-19 cases.
But where their next games may take place is anyone's guess - with the possibility of fixtures at AAMI Park for the Melbourne derbies sure to be on FFA's agenda on Wednesday.
It was the second night in a row that the three clubs were left enraged by a doomed late-night scramble, after the dramatic events on Monday which kicked off about 8pm when teams were informed that the border closure - which had been set for midnight Tuesday night - had been brought forward 24 hours.
From there it was a mad rush as players packed their bags in preparation for a seven-week Sydney stay and met up at AAMI Park - only to be let down on the tarmac with visibility issues in Canberra forcing a last-minute roadblock.
"It's been difficult... it's been frustrating," City's director of football Michael Petrillo told SEN Radio on Tuesday.
Since last week's release of rejigged draw for the rest of the season, A-League boss Greg O'Rourke has insisted the game needs to be flexible with fixtures and venues - a point he reiterated on Tuesday.
"If we find it necessary to revise the match schedule we will do so accordingly and will announce once confirmed, however at this time the schedule remains the same," O'Rourke said.
Originally published as 'Just not possible': FFA defends A-League airport farce