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'These are uncharted waters' - How an intercounty manager responds to a GAA shutdown

Longford’s Padraic Davis talks to The42 at a time of great uncertainty.

Padraic Davis of Longford.
Padraic Davis of Longford.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE TAOISEACH’S WORDS rang out around the country at 11.30 am, the GAA had acted by 2pm and it was around 8.30pm that Padraic Davis texted his Longford players.

He spent some time crafting a careful message, eager to get it right now that they were facing a shutdown of all activity until at least 29 March. 

“The nature of the text was along the lines that we will take the weekend to think about where we as a management team feel we can go”, Davis tells The42. ”I certainly wasn’t going to make an unnecessarily rash decision by text. I didn’t want to be ill-judged and it to be measured as we possibly could.” 

That message is going to address where an inter-county team goes from here. But first: where they are and where they were. 

Longford trained last Friday week and held a meeting ahead of a clash with Derry scheduled for this Sunday. They trained earlier this week too, but as the days ticked by, the world’s obsessions forced its way further to the front of everyone’s mind. It was complicated by the fact that a panel member was returning from some time in Southern Italy, and thus the international news was made to feel uncomfortably local. 

“We had a meeting on Wednesday night and we addressed where all of our minds had been”, says Davis. “Football was probably a 5% part of all our conversations and it would usually be close to 100%, particularly during National League and Championship games.

“The management team and the players acknowledged that we had drifted: it was the most natural thing in the world for anybody.

“We were trying to get all of our minds back on track. Once we talked that out we were ready to train.”

And then the government hit pause. 

“Then it changed on Thursday and Friday and now find ourselves in the position we are in. The days and weeks that lie ahead are very difficult to predict.” 

Longford are currently level in second place of Division Three with Down, close to promotion and joining a Championship in the top bracket of sides set to avoid the Tailteann Cup. Don’t underestimate what it would mean for a county of Longford’s size to arrive at the All-Ireland championship among the top half teams in the country. 

Once the suspension of activity was announced, Davis, his management team and the county board rang around to cancel what was planned for this weekend: hotel stays, physio appointments, food arrangements and more. 

Then it was time to take stock and figure out where to go next, without the comfort of precedent. 

Collective training is off the table – the assumption among some county boards is that insurance wouldn’t cover any injuries suffered in sessions during the GAA-decreed ban – so each player is likely to be given their own individual plan.

This is the abiding irony of this strange moment: the collective good is best served if everyone remains apart. 

“It is absolutely clear that all collective training, gym sessions and team meetings are strictly prohibited throughout this period”, says Davis.  “It’s a matter of coherence and co-operation from us all. Health and safety is at play here, and while questions will be raised as to why we can’t train with this size of a group or that size of a group, there is a number priority in this, and it’s public health. 

“All aspects of our normal preparations have to continue. Gym work, conditioning, nutrition: that will be done with each individual coach.

“Everything will have to be done individually. If we are going to work with the GAA on this, then it has to be done on an individual basis.

“The amount of work these guys have put in, that must continue, but it has to continue on an individual basis. I think it will and I think it should.

“If your neighbour down the road is out every day walking the dog, then surely you can go for a run, or get your weight session done in your garage or wherever it may be. It has to be done, and I suspect that this is as close to normal as we are going to get between now and whenever. I hope I am wrong, but I suspect the chances for a return on 29 March are hugely slim.

“I think whatever inter-county squads get this right, they will have a sizeable advantage on the resumption of whichever competition resumes, whether it be the National League or the Championship. 

“These are uncharted waters. Whoever gets this right will have a huge advantage on the resumption of competitive football. At the end of the day, you’re never going to remove that from us: whether it’s the death of a family member or a pandemic like this, we are competitive by nature. I think we need this, we need this in the weeks ahead, we need this in times of bereavement. Therein lies the challenge and it’s one I’m looking forward to.

“We will do everything in our power to get that advantage, but certainly not at the risk of bringing people together and bringing anything negative to the wider society We all have our part to play, and we have to play our part.

“At the end of it all, nothing comes before the welfare of friends, family, and the wider society. We must all come together and do our bit.”

These are confusing, uncertain times for everyone and in the grand scheme of things, travails for inter-county managers are rightly down the list of priorities…but who would we be if we didn’t at least ask that question? 

This piece was amended on 21 March to reflect that a panel member was returning from Southern Italy, rather than Northern Italy. We are happy to clarify the error.

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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