DIFFICULT times across the sporting landscape and for the GAA, in particular, they are now facing an even more difficult task with regards to fixtures plan for the season ahead.
The news last week that inter-county games are no longer considered an elite sport caught a lot of people by surprise.
Subsequently, the question was posed why things are different now than they were last season when the games were included among those exempt from the Level 5 lockdown.
That’s all changed now and with the restrictions imposed by the government in place until March 5, it has thrown a veil of uncertainty over the season’s scheduling.
The expectation was that the national league in hurling and football would commence on the last weekend of this month but, of course, that won’t be happening now.
Last season it was club before county and it proved very successful, so much so that the idea of a split season gained significant momentum. The plan this time was to put inter-county first with July All-Ireland finals.
Well, that may not be the case and the clubs will be first into the fray whenever the green light is given by the authorities.
This could very well work in the GAA’s favour, begin the inter-county season again in September when much of the population should be vaccinated which would allow room to get crowds into the grounds, it would be still at a reduced capacity but it would still generate finance, badly needed at that for the association.
We may well have a situation that the national leagues are scrapped for the season. Inter-county team managers may not be happy with that scenario as it would mean that their players would have no time to play together, work things out together before the first game of the championship.
Managers would not get an opportunity to look at new players in their panels in an intercounty environment and it would reduce the opportunity to experiment.
If the national leagues do go ahead, the format will be much different, smaller groupings obviously and no quarter or semi-finals.
There will be speculation again about a knockout championship, one strike and you are out but that would not find favour with too many.
The general consensus now seems to favour the club scene getting first crack again and the point made last week by Tyrone County Chair, Michael Kerr made a lot of sense.
On the club's first season, he said: “Every player will get to play because every county player is an intercounty player.
“We’ll always have enough pitches in September, October, November into December to facilitate inter-county games but that’s not the case for clubs."
It certainly is a frustrating time for everybody and intercounty bosses are again going to have limited time in preparing their teams.
There is no doubt that the fixture makers in Croke Park will be tested, maybe even more so than last year.
And, to give great credit, they did a magnificent job in getting most of the major competitions run-off successfully.
From a Cork viewpoint, it has to be very frustrating for U20 team boss Pat Ryan and his selectors who have done a magnificent job in getting their team into the All-Ireland final.
However, they are now in limbo with regards to getting the opportunity to play that final and in the knowledge that the Leinster championship decider has yet to take place.
And what about Éire Óg? They are in two county finals in both codes, huge games for that great club.
Again, they are in the dark. The plan was to play the remaining finals in June but will that be able to happen now?
The provincial and All-Ireland club championships had to be scrapped last season, the Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cups are gone for this season and the schools competitions, it looks likely, won’t be going ahead either.
But, as they say, it is what it is and little can be done to change things.
And right now it looks like last season’s model of the club first before the inter-county will have to be rolled out again.