Club before county as inter-county training on hold until September 14

Club before county as inter-county training on hold until September 14
Páirc Uí Chaoimh hasn't seen GAA action since earlier this year. When the GAA returns from the end of June it will be on a club-first basis. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

'CLUB before county' is the motto of many GAA stalwarts and that will be the case when Gaelic games action returns this summer.

The Association have announced club pitches are to reopen in Phase Three of the government roadmap out of the Covid-19 restrictions, on June 29 and published the details of the GAA's plan to restart the season.

A straight knockout series has been mooted for inter-county teams, but only after an 11-week period of club-only activity. The elite teams won't be allowed to train until September 14, with sufficient time to get up to match fitness and sharpness before championship from October 17, at the earliest.

The club window in terms of matches will be from July 31 to October 11, but training can start again on June 29. How many spectators will be allowed into club games will only be revealed before Phase Four on July 20.

The provincial and All-Ireland series will run from October 17 giving teams a month of training beforehand though obviously there will be a crossover of players who reach the latter stages of their club championships. No fixture or format details have yet been made available, nor has it been confirmed with will happen with the incomplete leagues.

Given GAA president John Horan told RTE the 2020 campaign could run over into 2021, it's likely all counties will be afforded at least two games via a backdoor.

On Leeside, the Cork County Board will be required to overhaul their championships for this season to avail of the window in August and September. They had only revamped the club competitions to a round-robin system for this year. 

That will be put on hold until next year, especially as the volume of clubs in Cork is greater than any other county. With 11 weeks to operate in, Cork will most likely revert to a backdoor option because of so many dual players. 

Imokilly's Seamus Harnedy and the Glen's Donal Cronin.
Imokilly's Seamus Harnedy and the Glen's Donal Cronin.

A big call will also have to be made regarding colleges and divisions. That's particularly tricky as Imokilly have captured the last three SHC titles while Duhallow footballers have made back-to-back county finals.

It's unclear yet if there will be room to facilitate the provincial and All-Ireland club series from junior through to senior, given inter-county matches will be the priority from mid-October.

Cork are slated to face Kerry in the Munster football semi-final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh though a new draw will be needed for the hurlers, as Munster and Leinster have been round-robin since 2018. Changes could be needed for the minor grades too, though the U20 hurling is already knockout aside from the provincial finals.

The primary focus now for clubs will be a safe return to activity and in accomodating all their teams from underage through to adult level, with players and coaches desperate for a return to some sort of sporting normality. In the initial weeks, contact training won't be permitted and clubs will have to run their facilities under strict guidelines which will place a burden on volunteer committees.

Clubs will have to use strictly adhered to time-slots for training with no access to changing facilities, no sharing of water bottles and minimal personnel on pitches. 

Players will be asked to complete a one-off online coronavirus education module as well as fill in a questionnaire and have their temperature taken each time they go to training or play. Should their temperature read above 37.5 degrees, they must return home.

Although the government gave the go-ahead for sports teams to train in groups of 15 from Monday, the GAA will only permit teams in groups of no more than 10 with two coaches to return to club pitches from the end of this month. That training will be non-contact with social distancing observed, until Phase Four on July 20.

The GAA explained: "Timesheets should be used to clearly show what teams are using club facilities at what times. The principle of 'get in, train and get out' will apply. There should be a time interval between teams departing having completed training and the next team arriving."

Many units in Cork have already cancelled their annual Cúl Camps because of concerns over safely running them with large numbers of kids on site. In Cork, clubs run the popular week-long events themselves, though in most of the rest of Ireland they're operated via county boards. 

Millie O'Rourke and Lily McDonagh in action during the Cúl Camp at Ballinhassig last summer. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Millie O'Rourke and Lily McDonagh in action during the Cúl Camp at Ballinhassig last summer. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Cúl Camps are a revenue-generator for the GAA and finance will of course be a huge issue going forward.

In terms of underage players, among the guidelines as well as 10 players and two coaches per session are: 

● Do not share personal equipment such as water bottles 

● If summer camps proceed, it is advisable that children limit their involvement to one camp 

● Communication with parents of the relative risk is important so that they can make an informed decision on their desire to have their children engage in small group activity. A minority of children may have diseases that put them at higher risk and the level of risk needs to be assessed by their GP and parent(s)/guardian 

● Having smaller groups with the same supervisor/trainer and equipment assigned to each group.

Also parents will have sign off on their children's participation at training. 

Overall clubs will be required to "have a number of Covid Supervisors who will require to familiarize themselves with the Gaelic Games online education module that will be provided. 

"Initially, each club secretary and chairperson (or their nominees) will be invited to complete an online module so that each club understands both the role and the purpose of Covid Supervisors.

"Following on from that, it is envisaged that every team in the club should have someone nominated with responsibility for Covid supervision present at each training session or game. These nominees will be provided with training and information on their exact role via the Gaelic Games online education module."

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