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Croker U-turn is better late than never

Breach of rule could see county thrown out

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Sinead Quigley in action during a Clontarf GAA club training session at St Anne’s Park

Sinead Quigley in action during a Clontarf GAA club training session at St Anne’s Park

SPORTSFILE

Sinead Quigley in action during a Clontarf GAA club training session at St Anne’s Park

U-turns tend to get a very bad press but sometimes it's best to view them through a positive prism: if the original action (or inaction) flies in the face of logic, then there's nothing wrong with a volte face.

Or even, in this case, taking a stronger and far less ambiguous line.

A week ago, the GAA hierarchy wasn't planning to punish any counties who ignored the ban on collective inter-county training before September 14.

Stretching

Seven days later that position has hardened, arising from a conference call of county chairpersons led by GAA president John Horan and director-general Tom Ryan. Better late than never.

It may be stretching things to suggest that a county team will be thrown out of competition if they persist in flouting the training ban between now and mid-September.

But at least there is now the threat of punishment under that catch-all Rule 7.2(e) dealing with misconduct considered to have discredited the association.

Will this induce a change from those county managers - a minority, it seems, but still a cohort that cannot be airbrushed - who have been gathering their troops in recent weeks? Hopefully, but let's watch this space.

As the pandemic has evolved and the number of cases here has thankfully reduced, the lexicon of Covid, GAA-style, has evolved too. We have moved from webinars and zoom calls to anecdotal stories of county squads training in 'pods' and allegedly larger gatherings for 'walk-through' sessions, simulating various strategies.

Maybe this could be glossed over or diplomatically ignored before clubs were allowed to resume full-contact training from last Monday.

But now the start of the club championship season is only a fortnight away, and clubs deserve full, unfettered access to their marquee county men.

It certainly appears the case that county boards who felt pressurised to turn a blind eye were happier after yesterday's meeting.

It's understood that a small number of chairpersons admitted their teams had been training, in some shape or form, in recent weeks.

Some of that activity may already have ceased but now comes the litmus test: will a stronger line from HQ encourage 100pc compliance from managers over the next six weeks?

In the past, the GAA's track record for upholding closed-season training bans or restrictions around the timing of pre-championship training camps has been, to put it generously, mixed.

Heat

How often has a county been punished for jumping the gun on the start date for pre-season training?

Even when Croke Park turned up the heat on training camps, in 2018, 17 counties were investigated for alleged breaches of regulation but just four found to have a case to answer and three ultimately punished.

The hurlers of Waterford and footballers of Laois and Armagh duly surrendered home advantage for their opening league game of 2019.

In an open letter to the 'Laois Today' website, the O'Moore's then-manager John Sugrue had no issue with "our punishment" but complained that "one rule for all means all should take the consequences for breaking that rule."

Among those cleared were the Dublin footballers, with Croke Park accepting the explanation that their group trip to France and Belgium was only to visit World War One battle sites.

Looking ahead to 2019, Sugrue inserted sardonic tongue in cynical cheek by suggesting Laois might even "head back to Kerry and collect receipts from a visit to Daniel O'Connell's birthplace to ensure we have a historical purpose as the main aspect of our trip."

In these unprecedented times, history will not look kindly on any manager who persists in defying the inter-county lockdown.