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'You're going to have GAA clubs preparing for a potential semi-final or final that may never be played'

Bart Gilmartin of the Old Leighlin Ladies team in Carlow explains how this decision impacts clubs around the country.

THE OLD LEIGHLIN Ladies club in Carlow were just one week away from completing their season.

image The Old Leighlin Ladies team. Source: Bart Gilmartin

They completed a county senior three-in-a-row this year having clinched their first senior title since 1999 back in 2018. They also won the Junior Leinster crown later that same year.

Unlike the men’s club championship, the LGFA competitions can proceed to the provincial stage this year, and Old Leighlin Ladies should be preparing for a Leinster intermediate final against Wicklow’s Tinahely today.

But the GAA’s decision to suspend all club games until further notice has put the climax to their season on ice. Clips of post-match celebrations last weekend where there was a lack of social distancing ultimately prompted the drastic measure.

Bart Gilmartin is part of the backroom team with Old Leighlin Ladies and has been involved with various teams in their rural club for many years. 

“It’s very difficult to understand what logic was behind the GAA’s decision on Monday,” a disappointed Gilmartin tells The42 on what should be a memorable day for his club.

“99.9% of club matches had been completed and the remaining clubs were being seriously punished by the misdeeds of others on social media.

It’s very difficult to stand over any fairness around that decision.”

Gilmartin explains that Old Leighlin Ladies had been playing matches almost every weekend in their march to the final.

They came through their semi-final against Dunshaughlin & Royal Gaels last weekend with a 4-6 to 1-8 victory to set them up for a battle against Tinahely in Athy this afternoon.

The GAA’s decision to postpone games came at a time when NPHET had recommended Level 5 restrictions for the country. The Government subsequently opted for Level 3 which would allow adult club games to take place behind closed doors.

There are seven counties who still have club championship competitions to complete for 2020. Like the many clubs who are affected by this halt to proceedings, Old Leighlin Ladies were hoping that the GAA would reverse its decision before this weekend arrived.

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“Obviously the girls wanted to know straight away what this means,” says Gilmartin about hearing the news of the GAA’s decision, “and we were still hoping until Wednesday night when the GAA announced that nothing was going to happen, we were hoping that sense would prevail, and that it might be played.

“But those hopes were dashed on Wednesday night.

“The clubs that still had their matches to play, the GAA decided that they were going to effectively punish those to be seen to be taking a tough stance. They never explained what benefit there was in actually cancelling those remaining games.”

Clubs are still permitted to train as part of this measure, but this presents further challenges for teams, as the inter-county season looms and winter weather sets in.

Gilmartin understands the GAA’s concern regarding social distancing during post-match celebrations, and knows that the LGFA and Camogie Association had to accept the decision to suspend all club games.

john-horan GAA president John Horan. Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

But fundamentally, he feels this call is too severe for the players and teams who still have games to play.

You’re going to have club squads who are going to continue to come together over the next few months to stay preparing for a potential semi-final or final down the road that may never be played. 

“No question [that] you are creating additional risk because you’re bringing all these people together. Most of these clubs are going to be training for 10 weeks, and maybe more, so they’re all unnecessary gatherings.

“Everyone knows that every week that goes by, we’re increasing the likelihood of going to Level 4 so they’ve just increased the likelihood that these matches will never be played. We were within five days of playing it. 

“You’re heading into winter, you’re going to have to train outside, the cost of running lights, all the travel they’re doing. Did the GAA even consider all the implications of this decision? It appears they haven’t.”

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