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Will there be crowds at GAA games, could the All-Ireland run into 2021 and will it be knock-out?

We look at some key questions after the GAA launched its return to action plan yesterday.

Lee Keegan celebrates scoring a goal in front of Hill 16 during the 2017 All-Ireland final.
Lee Keegan celebrates scoring a goal in front of Hill 16 during the 2017 All-Ireland final.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

THIS YEAR’S ALL-Ireland football and hurling championships will be completed no later than February 2021, the GAA have confirmed. 

The Association unveiled its ‘Safe Return to Gaelic Games’ document yesterday following the government’s easing of Covid-19 restrictions. 

It’s the GAA’s plan to have its flagship competitions completed by next February at the latest, while they remain hopeful to have crowds at games when they resume in October.

“We’ve always said we would accept it may be creeping into the first two months of 2021, if necessary,” said president John Horan.

“That’s always been on the cards that we may have to access January and February to finish it off. It won’t go any further than February.”

On the possibility of games taking place behind closed doors, director general Tom Ryan remarked: “Games behind closed doors is not really something that we want. It’s not something we’re really contemplating, it’s not something we’re actively pursuing, to be honest.

“The answer is no. You’re really talking about last, last resort territory there, and we’re not contemplating it at all under any circumstances, really.

“There’s a lot more value for the championships than purely the financial so we won’t be guided by that. We’ll just have to tackle that one when we get to it but no appetite at the moment in fairness.” 

Horan added: “It would be our hope to have attendances at games.

“It may mean we would use restricted venues for the inter-county championships when they actually come back on board. It’s something we’re conscious of and we see it as desirable to actually have crowds at a game.

“Obviously, I don’t think they’ll ever be at the level they were at, they will be restricted, but that restriction will take into account all the health measures and guidance we’re given.

“Again, we’re really waiting for the government to come out with a figure on that. They talked earlier about gatherings until 1 September, and all our gatherings at games will obviously be outdoor, so that may be a factor in it.”

No decision has been made yet regarding the structure of inter-county competitions, according to GAA director of games administration Fergal McGill.

“That’s the task ahead of us in the next couple of weeks to design those competition structures,” he said.

“Everyone’s focus will be on the Liam MacCarthy and the Sam Maguire, but we’ve a hell of a lot more we have to put into that as well. We have to look at the U20s, we have to look at minor, we have to look at the leagues, we have to look at all of the hurling championships outside of the Liam MacCarthy.

“So it’s going to be a challenge. But any fixture-maker at any level will tell you, what he needs to know is ‘When’s my start date? When’s my finish date?’ So we have to be conscious that 2021 is going to be a new season as well. We have to be conscious that there is an end-date.”

It remains a distinct possibility that major games and potentially the All-Ireland football or hurling final will take place on Saturday, 21 November, the 100th year anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

“There will be a definite ceremony in Croke Park on Bloody Sunday,” explained Horan.

“The fixture schedule will be determined by CCC in the next week or two. If it’s possible to give a game-factor to the occasion in Croke Park on the night, that will be worked in. But the circumstances will be somewhat fluid and we will have to plan the competitions. 

“Bloody Sunday and the celebrations won’t be scaled back in any way. It will be marked as a very special occasion in the history of the organisation.”

Ryan confirmed there was “intense contact” with the Gaelic Players Association and the body’s CEO Paul Flynn “contributed fully to the discussions.”

“It’s fair to say the views of county players have been represented,” he added 

Finally, Covid-19 Advisory Group member Dr Kevin Moran said club players should not feel socially pressurised to return to play and must weigh up their own personal circumstances.

“Even allowing for the fact that StatSports says they’re in close contact for whatever period of time, we still think all the information is that if you’re training outdoor, there’s minimal transmission of the virus.

“The group are very strong that players have to be able to make up their owns minds, without pressure.

“I understand what happens in clubs but individuals have to be able to do their own clinical risk-benefit analysis, where they weigh up the risk that may be posed to themselves against the enormous benefits they’re going to get from being involved in a team environment – physical, psychological and social.

“Having been involved with clubs myself over the years, you can see where there are attempts to put pressure on players in particular ways.

“Players have to be strong enough to stand up for themselves and resist that if their judgement tells them otherwise.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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