| 11.5°C Dublin

GAA right to focus on return to club games

Close

A general view of the GAA's headquarters at Croke Park, Dublin

A general view of the GAA's headquarters at Croke Park, Dublin

SPORTSFILE

A general view of the GAA's headquarters at Croke Park, Dublin

Anecdotal and visual evidence over the last couple of weeks suggests that, as far as a small number of GAA teams, men's and ladies, are concerned, the move is on.

A training session on a pitch has been recorded in one known case, albeit in small numbers and with proper social distancing being applied, while others are reputed to have taken place in similar numbers.

Last Friday's statement by the GAA confirming the opening of designated walkways around clubs from June 8 onwards, the Government's phase two, showed some formal movement ahead of schedule on the Association's behalf.

An added proviso was that in phase three, June 29 to July 20, pitches may be opened for some exercise in small groups, possibly with a ball, three weeks ahead of what was envisaged in the original GAA statement setting out a plan issued almost four weeks ago now.

Roadmap

The publishing of a roadmap sometime later this week, perhaps Friday in line with the Government's own advancement to phase two, will be a welcome development.

By then the advisory group, which was announced in the same statement setting out the closure of facilities and no inter-county championship before October, will have met four times and will have developed a much clearer picture around risk assessment and timing.

One obviously complements the other.

But it's fair enough to presume that if the proverbial wind keeps blowing favourably for the country in its battle against Covid-19, then by phase four (July 20 to August 10) much more meaningful training in bigger groups can take place ahead of a competitive return, which would require a couple of weeks of full contact training, sometime later in the month as part of phase five.

Of course, the issues around resumption of contact remain as prevalent now as they did some weeks back, when the GAA president John Horan suggested that a return to that level would be difficult as long as social distancing remained a priority.

His GAA.ie interview last week specifying 'two metres' scarcely changes the parameters of a game where close 'man-marking' often takes opponents to within one metre of each other. The surveys conducted by the Club Players' Association and by the 'Anglo-Celt' aligned in terms of the numbers who were reluctant to return.

In the CPA's survey, the red line was a vaccine for return; for Cavan's provincial newspaper the question focused simply on the merits of a local championship taking place. In both, negative responses were between 20 per cent and 40 per cent. That's a snapshot of how many may not want to participate in 2020.

In parallel, the argument for putting inter-county activity ahead of club is gaining traction again in some quarters on the basis that the numbers involved would be easier to manage and assess for the potential spread of the virus. And that is essentially true. But it discounts a few other factors.

Spike

If inter-county did take off first and took a couple of months to run off, it would potentially push club championships back into late October, November and December.

If there is a second spike, this is the time, according to real experts, when it is most likely to occur as people move back indoors and good ventilation, with fewer windows open etc, is less apparent.

To have played two inter-county-championships and then have to pull club championships in 32 counties is a PR risk the GAA couldn't take.

Finance is another good reason why inter-county should wait. Yes, money matters.

The projections of a €50m gross loss (€15 to €20m nett loss) can't be dismissed lightly.

If the GAA was to put inter-county activity back out first, it would require at least a four-week run-in and, consequently, significant finance that counties just won't have to resource it, especially if the games are to take place behind closed doors.

There may be some broadcast revenue recouped but, on balance, getting the games back at local level and giving those counties some gate revenue makes more sense. The financial losses at a broader level have already been written in.

Perhaps the most welcome development of last Friday's statement was confirmation that plans were continuing to host Kellogg's Cúl Camps. It can't be on the scale of the 156,500 that attended in 2019 or even the format but still, for a concept that came so close to being spiked in April, it's a positive sign that they are still alive for 2020.

But then things can turn so quickly. Five to six weeks ago many were prepared to write off competitive activity in 2020.

But as quickly as they can turn in that direction, they are certain to be able to backtrack across the same ground.

There were 77 new Covid-19 cases announced yesterday. That may well be an issue in how they are recorded but it is twice what it was last Friday and is worth noting.

By opening up outdoor club facilities - indoor facilities look set to remain shut for at least another phase - on June 29, the GAA will be three weeks ahead of its own provisional schedule but three weeks behind where some feel it could be.