CORK football manager Ronan McCarthy is normally an optimist, glass-half-full merchant, but he has doubts about an inter-county return next October.
That’s the month signalled by GAA President John Horan as the earliest possible time for players to enjoy what they do most: playing.
The Glanmire Community College principal, overseeing 1,000 plus pupils, boys and girls, and 100 teachers, is, naturally, hoping October sees activity on the pitch.
“My own gut feeling is that I’d be surprised if we’re playing in October based on what’s happening currently.
“I think the president made a very valid point when he said if we can’t have people sitting in stands it’s very hard to argue in the next breath that it’s ok to play.
“I’m not certain, really. Even if it does back in October what format does it take? Do you play behind closed doors? You see soccer coming back in Germany. Yet, it’s not the same thing at all. And I believe it’s more a factor in GAA with supporters’ links to the county, the club, the parish and everything else. I wonder about it, really.
“Having said that, I’m not dead against playing behind closed doors though I admit the hierarchy has very difficult decisions to make and I don’t envy them in that situation. They are handling the pandemic quite well at the moment and if that continues then maybe we will have better news later on in the year. Yet, we can’t speculate too much,” he said.
When football and hurling does come back, and sport in general, participants will have to weigh up the risks involved not only for themselves, but their families and the wider community, as well.
No player has opted out because the decision doesn’t have to be made just now though it’s probably only a matter of when.
“It’s not a conversation I’ve had yet because there was never really one to have. If there is some realistic chance of games going ahead in October, whether behind closed doors or with supporters, then it’s a conversation we are going to have to have.
“People are in very different circumstances. We have people with young children, others with elderly parents and it is a very individual decision for people to make.
“If there is a consensus approach and the guidance and advice is that it is safe to return then that might allay a lot of fears for players and their families,” McCarthy commented.
Horan’s disclosure that restrictions remain in place until July 20 brought welcome certainty and clarity to all involved in GAA activities during this most difficult and stressful period.
The news could be heard with a sigh of relief from anxious players, who spent their time training, but for no apparent reason.
“We broke up on March 10, when the players were put on programmes and we’re still dealing with the strength and conditioning team.
“We were hoping they would be a return to some form of training in early June, but that didn’t happen, so we gave them a few weeks to switch off.
“What you find is inter-county players train all the time. That’s the nature of it. There is no off-season, really.
“There’s a very good core group who always look after themselves so we don’t have to look over their shoulder.
“It was probably more of a mental break and the fact that it’s not a prescribed programme for us allows them just maintain themselves for a few weeks.
“No matter whether it’s work, education or sport, I think it’s the uncertainty which people find most difficult.
“It was obviously disappointing that sport wasn’t going to return sooner, but it was still great to have clarity. At least now people can focus their attention somewhere else until the next phase.”
Cork footballers are unbeaten in 2020, winning all five league games in Division 3 and bankers for an immediate promotion. It’s an important competition for McCarthy and co, even if it seems to have lost in the general chit-chat about the season.
“It’s important for Cork to finish the league. We were on the cusp of getting back into Division 2 and for the development of the team it would be another important step.
“You wonder at this stage if the league isn’t finished whether they would look at re-structuring it anyway for next year. That happened in the past, when I was playing, like divisions 1A and 1B, and 2A and 2B.
“They’ve done that a lot in hurling over the years to try and include teams in the upper tier.
“If the league isn’t completed and obviously we hope it is, I think the fairest thing to do would be to re-structure for the following year.”
As for his main hope? “My wish overall is that, and I’m not just talking about inter-county, but in general, people are able to get back out on a pitch this year.
“And that’s whether it’s to play football, hurling or just go training because it’s such an important part of what we do.
“Even my own kids are involved and love it so much just like the rest.
“I hope that we don’t go the rest of the year without giving our young people, our kids and the people who love the games we play, the opportunity to return to playing,” McCarthy concluded.
Amen to that, say you!