GAA lockdown has echoes from Cork's sporting past 

Championships during the War of Independence and Civil War were severely disrupted for the Rebels
GAA lockdown has echoes from Cork's sporting past 

Spare UCC hurleys on the sideline during an Electric Ireland Fitzgibbon Cup in the Mardyke. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

THE GAA calendar looks like being heavily disrupted for the second year running, which bizarrely resembles what happened on Leeside almost exactly 100 years ago, although for entirely different reasons.

We learned in the past week that there will be no Gaelic games activity of any description until at least Easter, with the big story probably being that no inter-county action is permitted under Level 5 restrictions.

We pretty much knew that club activity and underage action was off the cards, but the hope would have been that we would have got some inter-county fare in the form of the national hurling and football leagues come March.

However, the GAA’s Covid Advisory Group issued a letter that stated: “The Government representatives clarified that inter-county Gaelic Games activity is not covered under the current Level 5 exemptions for elite sports.

“As such, a return to inter-county training or games is not permitted under the current restrictions. It was also clear that there will not be any change to this position post-March 5th when the restrictions currently in place are reviewed.

“It is the view of the GAA’s Covid Advisory group that no on-field activity will be permitted – training or games – until Easter at the earliest”.

Watergrasshill GAA club closed under restrictions. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Watergrasshill GAA club closed under restrictions. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Male inter-county teams had enjoyed elite sports status pre-Christmas, which allowed for the senior football and hurling championships to be played off, but the realities of amateur sport could never survive this much more severe third Covid lockdown. 

The stark reality had to be accepted that amateur sportsmen, who have nine to five jobs on top of their sporting commitments, just could not lock themselves away in a bubble in the same manner that a professional team like Munster Rugby can.

The Government had only one call to make at this time, and they clearly made the correct one, for now.

The hope had been that we would all get a relatively uninterrupted GAA campaign in 2021, well at least in comparison to 2020, but all bets are off now. 

Whatever happens from here on in, the GAA calendar year is going to be compromised.

Certain competitions will get kicked to the curb, or seriously diluted, just as they were last year. To quote Tiger Woods after a particularly bad round of golf, when confronted by an unwanted interviewer, and when in a foul mood: “it is what it is”.

And while we are entitled to feel frustrated at the fact that hurling and football are being removed as ways of passing these long Covid influenced days, it could be worse.

FALLOUT

Our ancestors of a century ago had to put up with a lot worse, with there being no GAA action in county Cork between August 1920 and January 1922 due to the terrible consequences of the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War.

On July 29, 1920, a Munster Hurling Championship match between Tipperary and Limerick was fixed for the Cork Athletic Grounds but had to be moved to Riverstick instead due to the fact that the British Army had taken over the grounds.

For the record, the Premier county won by 5-7 to 3-3. It was to be the last major game to be held in Munster that year.

In his brilliantly informative book Sport in Cork: A History, Donal O’Sullivan had noted from a Cork Examiner report of the time “that the police had become more oppressive in trying to prevent the playing of hurling in the streets and open places in the city and county”.

Tensions were on tenterhooks, and when, on March 20, 1920, Cork’s Lord Mayor Tomás Mac Curtain had been killed, there was to be no turning back, with hostilities only escalating on both sides.

Other grounds other than the Athletic Grounds were taken over by British government forces, while many officials and players found themselves in jail as matters escalated. O’Sullivan even describes how the famed Nemo Rangers club was actually formed in prison at this time, as on March 15, 1919, the Rangers and Nemo clubs amalgamated.

The whole of County Cork mourned for another Lord Mayor in October 1920, when Terence McSwiney finally succumbed to the struggles of hunger strike, with GAA being called off throughout the county as a result.

Come July 1921 the long-desired truce had been declared, with GAA returning in most counties in Ireland almost immediately.

However, there was to be no action in Cork, as the county board feared that the truce would not last and held fire, to excuse the pun.

Eventually, the other counties came around to Cork’s point of view with there being a country-wide halting of all GAA activity throughout Ireland until 1922.

CIVIL WAR

And while action did resume in January 1922 in Cork it did not last long – as another ‘lockdown’ occurred in December 1922 due to the Civil War, with this Civil War having ramifications for Cork GAA for a number of years.

Cork, along with Kerry and Limerick, did not actually take part in the 1923 All-Ireland series, which was not held until 1924, due to the internment of republican prisoners.

The one good thing to emerge from all this disruption was the fact that by the time all GAA activity got back to normal after these bloody wars the number of junior clubs in Cork city had doubled.

Any chance Covid could have a similar effect?

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