GAA must not rush decision on revised season given Covid uncertainty

Government policy in the coming weeks will dictate whether inter-county can start in April
GAA must not rush decision on revised season given Covid uncertainty

A sign on the entrance gate which was closed about the grounds being closed at Watergrasshill GAA Club due to Level 5 restrictions. Picture: Denis Minihane.

THE weekend marked 11 months since the announcement of the first restrictions due to Covid-19.

It’s eye-opening to look back and think that the first lockdown was initially announced for just two weeks, and, while there was an expectation that things might have to slow down for a few months, nobody thought that we would be in the same – or worse – situation as the one-year anniversary approached.

In the circumstances, the fact that the GAA was able to run close to as smoothly as possible in 2020 was an excellent achievement, with only one top-level championship match having to be forfeited due to a Covid outbreak. Even the club scene was well-operated, with the premature pausing of activity down more to off-the-field occurrences than what has happened around the games themselves.

In such a climate, it’s therefore strange that GAA is all of a sudden not classed as elite sport. We can debate the rationale for elite and non-elite another time – it’s a debate with a lot of vested interests, so it’s hard to negotiate – but this is concerned with a change in state that was not communicated to anybody until last week. 

Given that teams shouldn’t be (though that’s not to say they aren’t) convening at the moment, it’s somewhat moot but what caused such a lack of clear advice and guidance and what resulted in the change of state, given that figures now are comparable to last October, when the 2020 championship started?

ALL-IRELAND CLUB SERIES

Of course, the original plan for the 2021 season was a shortened league and then an earlier, more compacted, championship schedule, finishing in July, allowing the club championships to kick off at pretty much the same time as last year. Then, with no autumn inter-county action, the provincial and All-Ireland club championships were to return.

Over the past few weeks in this column, we have said that the latter would be the most dispensable part of the calendar, as they were in 2020. It’s hardly the boldest of pronouncements to predict now that they won’t happen this year.

It’s a blow, definitely – the long-lasting AIB sponsorship is welcome to the GAA and the games being covered by TG4 has ensured that the association has retained a winter broadcasting presence. However, these competitions are the cream on top of the jam for county championship winners – when everyone else needs their bread and butter, it’s only logical that these would be the first thing to go.

One possibility that the delay of the start of the inter-county season raises is the option to copy last year’s format, or at least take inspiration from it. 

The reasoning goes that the clubs – 98 percent of the GAA’s playing population, remember – could return as soon as it is safe to do so and then, by the time, the county season started, it could perhaps be possible for spectators to attend.

It sounds familiar, given that it was the hope last year too, but – assuming that the rate of vaccination can pick up – it could be a bit more feasible. Given that nothing has started yet, it perhaps wouldn’t be the most difficult thing in the world to re-arrange the master fixture list – whatever happens, it seems likely that there would need to be further restructuring to the league as the number of available weekends reduces one by one.

It’s far from ideal and we certainly wouldn’t want to be making the decision as to what should happen, given how the situation can change so dramatically and so quickly.

The delaying of the start of the season does have a silver lining for Down manager Paddy Tally, whose 12-week suspension for the Mourne Men breaking the training ban was reduced to eight last week, commencing from the date of his Central Hearings Committee hearing – meaning he won’t miss any games.

Cork boss Ronan McCarthy was also given a 12-week ban and both counties lost a home league game. Down didn’t opt to appeal the forfeiture of the home fixture but Cork have done, and that hearing is expected this week. What are the odds that McCarthy won’t miss any time on the sideline either?

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