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Club boss hopes players won't be used as guinea pigs for county teams

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CAUTION: Umpire John Hurley, wearing a mask, looks on during a Limerick SHC match

CAUTION: Umpire John Hurley, wearing a mask, looks on during a Limerick SHC match

SPORTSFILE

CAUTION: Umpire John Hurley, wearing a mask, looks on during a Limerick SHC match

One week on from the first reported case of a GAA star playing while infected with coronavirus, a manager caught up in the situation has expressed his hope that club players aren't being used as "guinea pigs" in order to push through an inter-county season.

Aghaloo O'Neill's met Eglish in the opening round of the Tyrone All-County Football League on July 19, and a player from the latter subsequently received a positive result from a coronavirus test.

Both Eglish and Aghaloo then suspended all club activities with a great deal of trepidation in each community, despite the Tyrone County Board instructing Aghaloo to continue on as normal.

Aghaloo manager Mickey Donnelly explained: "We received official notification from the county board. Basically, Eglish would have contacted the county board and I am sure they have a Covid officer like we do.

"And then the county secretary contacted our secretary. That's where the official contact came to say there had been a positive test."

While the club listened to the guidance from the county board, concern among the community then led to Aghaloo taking matters into their own hands and shutting down all activities of their own accord.

"The protocol from the county board was that even though one of their players tested positive for coronavirus, it was deemed to have been just 'casual contact'," Donnelly revealed.

"If we had wanted to, we could have tore on. But we felt we had a duty of care. First and foremost, as a manager I felt we had a duty of care to our players to see if any of them had been infected.

"Secondly, there is a duty of care to our community, to ensure we aren't bringing that virus into the community.

"We then co-ordinated in ensuring that every player got tested and indeed that extended to umpires, management, secretary, anybody who had been at the pitch at Eglish was tested.

"There is worry, there is apprehension. It is easy to just shrug it off. People are worried about the season but the first thing I thought was that we would all be in quarantine for 14 days.

"We genuinely could have trained on Tuesday night, but we didn't think it was the ethical thing to do and we went down the line of getting everyone tested so that we could face our families and our community in the eye and show them there was nothing to fear here," he added.

Donnelly believes that the actions of his club showed a measure of responsibility and could be adopted by the GAA in future cases where clubs have legitimate concerns in future outbreaks.

Across Ulster, the past fortnight has produced a litany of examples of clubs across most counties shutting down activities as players and others undergo coronavirus testing following outbreaks of infections.

"It's not trying to be blasé or dismissive about it, but it (what Aghaloo did) is only good practice because this is going to happen time and time again," he stated.

"And because there is an outbreak on a building site, the offshoot of that is that all the people on that site are tested. A GAA player is going to be found to have Covid again. I just hope we are not guinea pigs for county football.

"Because we are being told it is only casual contact, what we should be doing at national level is in the event of a player on your own team getting it, or an opposition team getting it, here are the guidelines."

By midweek, all the tests had turned up negative results, and after a club meeting the Aghaloo senior team resumed training on Friday evening in preparation for their home game against Strabane Sigersons.

The outlined GAA protocols were adhered to in terms of the club pavilion being closed while seating areas were marked out to ensure social-distancing measures were maintained by spectators.

"I spoke to Danny McBride (Strabane player) before the game," said Donnelly.

"Danny's wife is pregnant and he was saying that when he had heard there was a nervousness, his own wife was worried.

"But given the fact we had all been through the testing process, his exact words were, 'There wasn't a safer team to play in Ireland than Aghaloo'."

With the threat of a second wave already commencing in Spain and restrictions due to be lifted on clubs and pubs in the near future, the threat of coronavirus will easily grow stronger and this is something that those involved in playing Gaelic games will have to adapt to.