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'Choose to be optimistic' - Camogie chief executive hopeful about 2020 inter-county season

‘We are putting everything in place to make sure that our games can happen,’ says Camogie Association CEO Sinéad McNulty.

Galway's Heather Cooney, Pippa Doyle, of Littlewoods Ireland, Sinead McNulty, Ard Stiurthoir The Camogie Association, and Kilkenny's Katie Power at the 2020 league launch.
Galway's Heather Cooney, Pippa Doyle, of Littlewoods Ireland, Sinead McNulty, Ard Stiurthoir The Camogie Association, and Kilkenny's Katie Power at the 2020 league launch.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

CAMOGIE ASSOCIATION CEO Sinéad McNulty remains optimistic about the 2020 inter-county season going ahead amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

Gaelic games across the length and breadth of the country came to a standstill in March due to the coronavirus crisis, but club action made a comeback in July.

Championships are in full flow across most of the country, though some clubs have been forced to pause activities due to cases, with matches in Kildare, Laois and Offaly coming to a standstill last week after the introduction of new regional restrictions.

While many believe it’s impossible to predict how things will transpire for the remainder of the year, others have cast serious doubts over the future of the 2020 Gaelic football, hurling, camogie and ladies football championships — which are scheduled to kick off in late October.

Crowds of 200 are currently permitted at club matches in line with government guidelines, and significantly reduced numbers and behind-closed-door clashes could be a possibility at inter-county level.

And while Camogie chief McNulty can see all viewpoints, she remains optimistic about the prospect of inter-county action in 2020.

“Personally, I’m really excited about it,” she told The42 today in an in-depth interview — of which more will be published next week — to mark the recent publication of the Association’s National Development Plan 2020-23.

“There have been days and weeks where you’re kind of banging your head off the wall going, ‘Is this going to happen?’ I think people are being conscientious, I think the government are doing their best. This did not come with a Ladybird book to tell us how to do it. 

We are putting everything in place to make sure that our games can happen. If they have to happen with smaller spectator numbers, we’ll cope with that. Our counties have put huge amounts of work and effort in, our players are so resilient and they’re so committed to their games that they all want it to happen.

“I think if everyone keeps doing what they’re doing in trying to minimise the spread of the virus, we’ll just have to keep working towards it. 

“Is there fear there or nervousness or a realisation of risk? Absolutely. You have to plan for all eventualities and that’s a challenge that we hope we won’t have to face. We’re looking forward to our All-Ireland final date on 12 December, we’ll have the woolly jumpers at the ready and we’ll be all set to cheer on our teams on the day.

“But yeah, you have to plan for alternatives whether that might be a deferral or whatever. We just don’t know what the future is going to bring. It’s day-by-day, week-by-week from a planning point of view.”

sarah-dervan-shauna-healy-and-niamh-kilkenny-celebrate Galway are reigning All-Ireland and league champions. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Camogie Association’s schedule also follows the GAA roadmap, with the focus on club action at the minute before inter-county panels can return to collective training on 14 September.

And McNulty added: “I need to acknowledge and thank the players and managers and the counties for respecting the timelines that have been put in place.

It’s so important that we do what we have agreed to do: let the club season work through, get us to our county club championship finals to enable the inter-county season to come in properly.

“Just a plea to everyone to keep washing their hands, staying apart and doing all those things.”

While her optimism is clear, it’s vitally important to have that mindset at the moment, she says. Over the past few weeks, many have cast doubt the 2021 season — let alone this year’s edition.

Last week Laois GAA chairman Peter O’Neill told RTÉ Radio’s Drivetime that some counties may struggle to field teams next year as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is felt on these shores, while Offaly chairman Michael Duignan and Westmeath chief Billy Foley are others to have voiced concerns in recent days,

But McNulty believes keeping a positive outlook is key.

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“Well, you have two choices every day,” she continued. “You get up in the morning and you can choose to be optimistic or pessimistic. The reality is going to pan out whichever way it does anyway.

One way or another, you’re going to have to get on with it so for me, you might as well look at it in the most positive way you can while also planning for all the stuff that could go wrong. 

“You’ve got to keep looking forward while also being realistic and sensible about what could go wrong and what contingencies you need to have in place.

“The staff team that I work with are phenomenal. They have been super supportive throughout this whole thing and super practical when it comes to that: Are we coming back? Are we getting back into the office? Are we getting back onto the pitch? Are we going back training? How are we going to get meetings back on?

“All of those things, we are thinking about those on so many levels. The contingency planning is complicated but hey, it’s worth doing because at least we know if something does go wrong, it’s not panic stations. It’s ‘Okay, we’re going to Plan B. Now, we’re going to Plan C’ and just keep doing that.”

The pandemic has understandably been “really, really challenging” for McNulty — who has been in the top chief job for a year now — and the Association, just like it has been for everyone across the world.

sinead-mcnulty-and-leo-varadkar McNulty with Leo Varadkar at last year's All-Ireland final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

But, hopefully, with the remainder of club county championships, inter-county championships and a 2020/21 All-Ireland club championship to look forward to, all of the hard work from grassroots up over the past few weeks will be worthwhile.

“Coming back has been challenging for everyone. The amount of work that people needed to do to prepare their venues and their facilities, putting their Covid supervisors in place, making sure that everyone has done the training and they’re filling in their health questionnaires before every session, all of that stuff… it’s all extra work on top of what people were already doing.

“So I really need to say a huge thank you to all of our volunteers out there who have supported camogie to get back on the pitch. Certainly when we were in March and April, we didn’t know what was going to happen and there were definitely dark days when people were talking about no sport for the rest of the year.

Really, it is a tribute to our volunteers, members and players how well they’ve managed the return to sport and how well they’re continuing to manage. We’ve seen over the last two or three weeks increased cases around the country and our volunteers are taking their roles so seriously, and being so attentive to the rules and the roadmap and really protecting all of our members.”

“The mantra I’m going by is ‘It’s not about you,’” McNulty concluded. “It’s about your Mum or your Mum’s Mum or your relatives down the road or somebody’s brother or sister who has an underlying condition.

“It’s not about how wonderful you feel that you’re getting back to sport, it’s about the impact that you’re having on those around you.

“And that’s always been the camogie message. It is about community, it’s always been bigger than an individual, and that’s pretty wonderful as a sport.”

- More from Camogie Association CEO Sinéad McNulty will follow next week.

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Emma Duffy

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