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Doubts persist over inter-county season on sobering week for GAA

The GAA have informed clubs in Kildare, Offaly and Laois that outdoor facilities can re-open for training.

A view of the Offaly GAA Centre of Excellence Faithful Fields after it was closed in March.
A view of the Offaly GAA Centre of Excellence Faithful Fields after it was closed in March.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

LAST TUESDAY THE government were expected to increase the number of people allowed to attend matches from 200 to 500.

It was a blow for GAA supporters to hear the news that crowd limits would not be increased as club championships continued. John Horan urged members not to be ‘”too despondent”, adding that “what’s important is that we have the games back”. 

The same day, the GAA announced the decision to cancel tickets for the 2020 inter-county championships.

The call was made as they could not guarantee that all ticket holders would be accommodated at games later this year. The idea of even quarter-full stadiums for the All-Ireland championships in the winter now looks fanciful at best.

Later in the week, Westmeath chairman Billy Foley described the continued crowd restrictions as “a shattering blow” and said the county may struggle to field teams in 2021 due to the financial blow of lost gate receipts.

Foley echoed the sentiment of Leitrim chairman Enda Stenson, who made a similar warning in July. 

The bad news continued for the GAA on Friday when the government announced lockdown measures in Kildare, Offaly and Laois due to a spike in Covid-19 cases related to local meat factories.

The GAA promptly confirmed the cessation of all activities in Kildare, Offaly and Laois.

The plans of hundreds of players, coaches and officials were shelved at the last minute as championship action loomed in all three counties and there was a great deal of anger and frustration locally. 

Why were GAA games postponed due to clusters that broke out in meat factories when the virus is 19 times less likely to be spread outdoors? Why was all sporting activity paused when Carroll Cuisine was allowed to resume operations in Tullamore on Monday morning?

The factory eventually suspended production today following criticism it received for opening up. But that did little to soften the blow.

For the next two weeks, clubs are left in limbo once again. Players living in outside counties cannot return home to train with their clubs due to the restrictions in place.

“You are doing everything, filling in your Covid questionnaire, sanitising everything, togging out in your car for a match, and it’s just backfired and I can’t understand it,” said Laois hurling captain Enda Rowland on Midlands 103 yesterday.

“Even for someone that owns a business or a restaurant. If you have done everything right, why should a meat factory be the one to close you down?” 

Clubs in the three affected counties received direction from Croke Park this evening following a Covid advisory committee meeting.

Outdoor GAA grounds can re-open but no games involving clubs can take place.

Non-contact training with a maximum of 15 people can continue. In a letter issued to clubs in Kildare, Offaly and Laois, the GAA, Camogie Association and LGFA said the following restrictions remain in place:

  • Outdoor GAA facilities can re-open 
  • No games are permitted involving clubs from these counties 
  • Training may continue, but should be on a non-contact basis and in groups of no more than 15 people 
  • The control measures outlined in the GAA’s Return to Play document – and in particular the completion of Health Questionnaires before every training session – should continue to be adhered to 
  • Indoor meetings should involve no more than 6 people, from no more than three households, and should adhere to the guidelines outlined previously by the GAA’s Health and Safety Committee, including the need for 2m social distancing  
  • Government travel restrictions should be adhered to

The statement added, “It is hugely unfortunate that circumstances beyond the control of the three Gaelic Games Associations in Laois, Offaly and Kildare has led to the cessation of games in these three counties, but this is certainly no reflection on our clubs and members who have worked so hard – and so successfully – to restrict the spread of the virus.

“It is the associations’ expectation that once restrictions are lifted in those counties that clubs will be able to resume activity on the basis that their fellow clubs in the other 29 counties are currently operating.”

The localised lockdowns are in place for two weeks, which presents a headache for county boards trying to complete competitions on tight timeframes. The knock-on effects means county managers in Kildare, Offaly and Laois will have less time to prepare their teams heading into the championship.

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For instance, a two-week delay to the Offaly SFC could mean it won’t conclude until 4 October instead of 20 September, unless mid-week games take place.

Manager John Maughan would have two weeks less than expected to work with the Offaly players involved in the county final which would be a hammer blow with the league set to resume the following weekend. 

The same logic applies to the Offaly hurlers, and both codes in Kildare and Laois.

If localised lockdowns were to take place during the winter, it would be a disaster for the inter-county championship with counties most likely forced to withdraw from the competition. 

One potential solution would be scrapping this year’s inter-county competitions which would reduce the pressure on county boards completing club championships in such a narrow window. 

With crowds of any significance looking unlikely to be able to attend inter-county games in the winter and county boards putting themselves under financial pressure to field teams without any significant revenue streams, the GAA may yet decide the best option is to cancel the 2020 All-Irelands.

It would mean local championships don’t need to be concluded by early October while the club All-Ireland and provincial championships could take place instead.

Whatever happens, it’s been a sobering week for the GAA. If this is indeed the start of a second wave, the inter-county season could be under major threat.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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