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Dublin: 15 °C Friday 14 August, 2020

What happens if a GAA club gets shut down mid-championship?

It’s up to each county board to decide how they handle such a scenario.

A general view of Semple Stadium
A general view of Semple Stadium
Image: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

Updated Jul 25th 2020, 2:59 PM

IN RECENT WEEKS, a number of GAA clubs across the country have suspended their activities to comply with HSE public health advice.

Earlier in July, 10 clubs in Derry took precautionary measures to shut down temporarily after an outbreak of cases in the area, while four clubs in west Cork were also stood down after a suspected Covid-19 case.

Various clubs across Kilkenny, Dublin, Laois, Carlow, Down and Armagh have been forced to cease activities for short spells after a player either tested positive or came in close contact with a confirmed case.

With county championships getting underway nationwide and being run off on tight timeframes, there’s a good chance there will be clubs required to shutdown mid-championship which presents obvious problems. Dual counties stand to be most affected.

Take the doomsday scenario where a handful of players from a particular club test positive the week before a county semi-final, for instance. If the club is forced to cease activities for a period of time they could potentially have to forfeit the game or the championship may be delayed.

Croke Park have stated that it’s up to each individual county board to decide how they handle such cases.

In the Covid-19 policy released to clubs, the GAA have made an important differentiation between close contacts and casual contacts. Club facilities and dressing rooms remain closed on the basis that the virus is 19 times more likely to be transmitted indoors than outdoors. 

Team-mates and opponents of a player who tests positive will be deemed casual contacts unless it’s determined they’ve been in close contact in instances like sharing a car or attending the same house party. 

This distinction is important and greatly reduces the number of players who would need to be stood down if a team-mate tests positive. It also pretty much rules out the prospect of two clubs being shut down following a game if one player involved subsequently tests positive. 

If a player does test positive, he’ll be restricted from taking part in team activities until he is 48 hours symptom-free. Close contacts will also be stood down until they are medically cleared to return.

Casual contacts are free to continue training and playing but must contact their doctor if they develop symptoms in the 14 days after exposure.

But if a cluster of cases do begin to develop in clubs, what is the protocol? In Laois clubs will have five days to fulfil a fixture if a cluster develops, while in Tipperary there’s a 72-hour period where the game must be played.

“Croke Park have sent out recommended guidelines with HSE protocols and they are clear and precise so that’s what we are going by,” Laois chairman Peter O’Reilly tells The42.

“There are a lot of different circumstances to be considered. If more than four players test positive by the HSE, the club has five days to fulfil the fixture.

“If not, the game will be awarded to the opposition. If it has relegation implications the team will not be relegated. All GAA games in the main are classified as casual contact.

“In reality, if five players test positive in any club it’s hard to see the championship being completed,” he added. “We’re going to take the positives while we can.”

Like Laois, Tipperary are a dual county who don’t have a lot of room for manoeuvre in their games schedule.

“We have a championship system with very little leeway,” Premier chairman John Devane explains to The42.

“We’ve looked at it, and our plan would be to play on. We don’t have room to move back [a game] unless we delay the whole championship. We have regulations put in there that there could be a 72 hour waiting period until we get a clear [test]. So the game could go back three days if it’s verified. 

“On a Thursday or Friday there could be a concern, so rather than giving walkovers clubs will get a 72 hour [window] where they could play the game. That would be one of the scenarios we’ll look at. 

john-devane-during-the-discussion-of-motion-2 John Devane, Tipperary GAA chairman. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“There have been concerns in clubs. I know of only two clubs where players have stood down and not made themselves available because of concerns of it. I know a lot of others have concerns about it but they are playing.

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“Tipperary is a county with less than 2% of the overall total and there’s around 500 cases in the county. Thanks be to God we have been fairly lucky in that regard we hope that will continue.

“We have a full round, we’ve 24 games in the three different hurling competitions this weekend, never mind divisional games so there’s a lot of games going on this weekend and we’d hope to keep playing we’ve a full schedule up to 27 September.

“The ideal would be to play the games as fixed. It would take a severe situation that the games get postponed, that would be the bottom line.”

For Devane, the bigger issue has been dealing with the headache of allocating tickets.

The Tipperary SFC commenced last weekend and Devane said some punters without tickets were turned away from games at the gates of grounds.

With no more than 200 people permitted into grounds for games, the number of supporters allowed to attend could be less than 100 in some cases after all players, backroom teams, officials, stewards and media are factored into the equation.

“Playing the games under the circumstances of 200 at it, there’s still doubts about whether it’s worthwhile going ahead at that when club people can’t actually get to see their clubs play,” he said.

“That’s a sad day, it’s a pity that’s happening at the moment. That’s concerning us nearly as much if not more than the fact that we might have to postpone games, because that’s down the road. We’re looking more at the concern of getting the people to the games at the moment. 

john-hetherton-with-brian-mcdonnell Action from the Dublin SHC meeting between St Vincents and St Oliver Plunketts ER. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“We were all glad to come back, get the games played and get back onto the field but I just don’t know if it’s still the right thing to do when you can’t get the people to see the games,” he continued.

“It’s as important for people to go to the games and see it as it is for the players as well. So it’s not what we’re about really. It’s about getting games and getting people to them – it’s all part of the community. We’re not happy about that.”

Tipperary have established an online platform to distribute tickets but it hasn’t run smoothly given the huge interest in attending games. With the Tipperary SHC commencing this weekend, officers at club and county level are “under severe pressure”, he says. 

“It’s not a satisfactory situation. There’s no doubt about that. Definitely not.  This is going to keep causing problems for us while this applies and that’s going to be for another few weeks as well.

“You’d nearly be better off, as some clubs are saying, playing it behind closed doors as playing like this. But that’s not what we’re about either.

“We will be streaming, we’ve four games this weekend streaming and we’ll hopefully have more after that. There’s work involved getting that together as well. It’s not satisfactory, definitely.”

Tipperary are in the middle of establishing a system where season ticket holders get free access to stream club games. It won’t be in place for this weekend’s games but it’s hoped to be up and running next week. 

“It’s not easy,” he admits. “The different aspects that we’re thrown at us in a short space of time, we’ve been trying to deal with all of those on top of everything else.

“It’s a new situation for us in a way but it is something that people have been talking about anyway for streaming. There’s been a little bit of it done the last few years. That’s what we want, for people to see the games.

“People always get enjoyment out of our games. To think that we have games this weekend and people that have never missed a game can’t get to see it live is not good, it’s not good. But these are strange times we’re living in.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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