IN late September, Cortoon Shamrocks club in Galway released a statement to explain why their Intermediate football semi-final against Dunmore McHales had been postponed the previous Sunday.
The statement outlined how primary school teacher, club captain and Galway footballer, Adrian Varley, was informed of a close contact with a student who had tested positive for Covid-19 on the morning of the game. The match was subsequently postponed.
Varley recorded a negative test but he was required to wait two weeks from his last contact with the student before being able to line out again with his club.
Cartoon expected that their semi-final would be rescheduled outside that 14-day timeframe and that it could be played on a Wednesday, 10 days after the match’s initial fixture date. However, the game was re-fixed for three days earlier, which ruled Varley out of the match.
As soon as they were informed of the rescheduled fixture, Cortoon requested a meeting with the County Board and Dunmore representatives to seek a resolution which would allow Varley to play. However, the Dunmore representative refused to budge. An agreement couldn’t be reached between the two clubs and the County Board insisted that the game go ahead the following Sunday.
Dunmore argued that, if they won the match, that they’d only have four days to prepare for the final. Yet Cortoon’s statement highlighted the behaviour of their player and how Varley, and the club, were effectively being punished for acting with honesty and integrity.
“Our club has had player welfare to the forefront of all decisions we have made but we feel we have not been treated with respect,” said the statement. “And our player has not been given the opportunity to participate which goes totally against the bedrock of the GAA organisation.”
Cortoon won the rescheduled match by four points. They were the better team but they were also clearly pumped and highly charged over events of the previous days.
“The Shamrocks were highly motivated by the enforced absence of star forward Adrian Varley,” said Ollie Turner in his post-game match report for Galway Bay FM. “And every score and decision that went in their favour was cheered with more vigour than normal.”
Varley and Cortoon acted in the best interests of everyone’s safety and welfare but, unfortunately, not everyone will, or has. The executive committee of the Waterford County Board are conducting an investigation into Dungarvan GAA club fielding a player in the recent county intermediate football final who was, at the time, awaiting the result of a coronavirus test.
The player subsequently tested positive. Dungarvan apologised, stating ‘there were errors made by the club in the interpretation of the Covid-19 guidelines’, but taking any chance is contrary to GAA protocols and all public health guidelines. A period of self-isolation, regardless of a test result, is required under public health guidelines.
The scale of medical personnel and back-up, and monitoring practises available, is far greater at inter-county than club level. But strict adherence to protocols, along with a rapid testing system will reduce the risks of a player not declaring symptoms ahead of a big game.
Players, management or backroom teams can’t take any chances but there is still a lingering fear that some players might take a risk when the stakes are so high.
“If a fella is close to an All-Ireland medal,” said former Kerry player Kieran Donaghy last week, “he could make a bad decision for the health and wellbeing of the players out there.”
A rapid testing programme is now set to be rolled out, which will involve immediate onsite testing following the identification of any positive test within a county squad, with results returned within 48 hours. The testing process will be overseen by an independent provider, with results to be analysed and distributed to county team doctors and local GPs.
The GAA is awaiting feedback from Nphet and the Government on details of specific case management for players. Players who receive a negative result will still more than likely require an exemption similar to what is in place with other elite sports.
No matter how important any game is deemed to be, everyone still has to play by the public health rules. That was obvious last week when Ireland soccer players Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah couldn’t line out against Slovakia after being a close contact with an FAI official on the plane trip to Bratislava.
Connolly and Idah were only 1.7 and 1.9 metres away respectively from the FAI official on the flight, but senior FAI officials concluded that both players had to be stood down on HSE advice — because the continuation of Irish sport across all levels and competitions is reliant on playing by HSE rules. Taking a chance or a risk cannot happen.
If any GAA player declares symptoms on the week of a game, rapid testing, and the protocols around it, would deal with those issues in real-time. That would also discourage players from hiding symptoms — for fear of missing a big game — while reducing the risk of teams possibly having to forfeit championship matches.
Rapid testing may only be required in the days leading up to a game but avoiding any potential risk is everyone’s responsibility in and around squads. And if inter-county teams are following all protocols, individual players shouldn’t be a risk to everyone else on, or around, the squad.