'No GAA training and matches means the loss of a vital social hub for so many'

'No GAA training and matches means the loss of a vital social hub for so many'
Michael O'Donovan, Kiltha Óg, was the mascot for the league game against Down last month. He posed before the match with referee Barry Tiernan and linesmen Maurice Deegan and Seamus Mulvihill, and sideline official Chris Maguire. Picture: George Hatchell

JUST over a century ago, the GAA faced its first pandemic when the Spanish flu struck the country in 1918-19.

With the disease affecting roughly 800,000 people in Ireland, with over 20,000 fatalities, the championships weren’t concluded until early 1919.

Limerick defeated Wexford in the hurling final in January, before Wexford completed a historic four-in-a-row by beating Tipperary in the football decider in February 1919.

When Cork won the first of their four senior hurling All-Irelands in a row in 1941, they didn’t win the Munster title that year.

Cork were beaten by Tipperary in the delayed Munster final, which was eventually played on October 26, after an outbreak of foot-and-mouth had caused widespread chaos with fixtures.

Central Council of the GAA refused to put back the All-Ireland hurling final so they ruled that teams be nominated to represent Munster and Leinster.

With Cork and Dublin the two nominated teams, Dublin beat Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final before Cork hammered Dublin by 20 points in the All-Ireland final at the end of that September.

When the foot-and-mouth disease struck again in 2001, disruption to GAA activity was limited to the spring, with a four-week suspension on matches in March.

With cases of the foot-and-mouth first uncovered in Tyrone and Louth, Louth’s league campaign ended prematurely while Tyrone were ruled out of the Division 1 football semi-finals and replaced by Roscommon. London also had their league cut short.

A crack Tyrone U21 side also looked set to miss out on glory, but the championship was put back and Tyrone defeated Mayo in the All-Ireland final that October.

The All-Ireland club finals were pushed back into April but the leagues were concluded before the championships proceeded at full steam throughout the summer.

This time around though, there is a totally different feeling.

Trying to conclude the league seems immaterial and almost irrelevant with such serious public health implications surrounding the worst pandemic in over a century.

Modern life as we all know it has been turned on its head to such an extent that the cancellation of the entire GAA season may be an unavoidable reality.

Nobody knows how long the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the health authorities everywhere will need to get to grips with the coronavirus but everyone, and everything, is in suspension mode until a clearer picture develops.

Sport is a hugely important part of modern society, extending from the huge numbers who play and watch sports to the massive financial impact sport has on the economy.

The very notion that pitches and clubs, swimming pools, gyms, running tracks etc will not be used properly in the coming weeks underlines the rapid societal change brought about by the coronavirus.

No training and matches means much more than just the loss of physical activity — it also means the loss of a vital social hub that dominates so much of daily life.

Everyone needs to take personal responsibility now to do whatever they can, both to protect people, and to help others.

Yet with that craving for a return to normality as soon as possible, one of the biggest lingering questions is when will sporting organisations be in a position to proceed again?

A worst-case scenario, and no GAA championship, may just be inevitable.

Yet nobody wants to think like that because everybody wants to have something so intrinsic to their daily lives to look forward to.

If there is to be a GAA summer, it’s difficult to know what that might look like, especially when there is such little room for manoeuvre.

A reversion to straight knock-out wouldn’t be ideal in terms of the championship but it would be one way of finding space in what may become a very condensed season.

There is the possibility of staging matches behind closed doors, but that option – which had already been evident in recent weeks in soccer – was soon shut down.

Nobody knows what impact the pandemic may have on society in three or four months.

Public health considerations may become so acute that unattended matches may be the last thing on anyone’s mind.

Yet if big championship matches were to be staged behind closed doors, the emotional investment for players and supporters would be totally alien to the whole experience.

Players just want to win but that connection between players and their own people is central to what the GAA is about in the first place.

Supporters would at least get to see their teams in action on TV but the difficulty in running a championship behind closed doors is the negative trade-off between fallen revenues and continuing costs to prepare teams.

Other huge overheads would be incurred without any income from gate receipts, merchandise, corporate intake, etc.

One of the main concerns for the GAA for now though, is what might happen in a games’ sense.

With the final positions in Divisions 2 and 3 in football needed to decide which counties proceed to the Sam Maguire or the Tailteann Cup, that reformatted championship may just have to be abandoned with the league effectively being scrubbed.

Having a championship full-stop, in whatever form it takes, would be a positive for now.

But everyone is in suspension mode until that clearer picture develops. And the bigger picture, and everyone taking personal responsibility by doing whatever they can in the meantime, is all that matters for now.

More in this section

Sponsored Content