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GAA facing a wipeout

Minister sounds ominous warning on prospects

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CLOSED UP: Croke Park Stadium may not see any action this summer. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

CLOSED UP: Croke Park Stadium may not see any action this summer. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

CLOSED UP: Croke Park Stadium may not see any action this summer. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

The grim spectre of a year without GAA Championship action now looms ominously over 2020.

In an interview published in yesterday's Sunday Independent, Minister for Health Simon Harris issued a bleak forecast for the remainder of the year.

He asserted it was "highly unlikely we're going to be seeing very large kind of mass gatherings" between now and 2021.

Though speaking broadly, the Minister's words have been interpreted as a death knell for this year's GAA Championships, as well as Ireland's remaining Six Nations and International football matches.

With suppression of coronavirus increasing but no vaccine yet available, Ireland's major sporting bodies are facing tough decisions over cancelling this year's planned events.

Former Dublin midfielder Ciarán Whelan (below) admitted: "It's now likely that we'll get the point where we'll have to admit we won't have an inter-county season for 2020 and just focus our energies on the club".

Speaking on RTÉ's Sunday Sport, Whelan admitted that while hugely disappointing, the Minister's comments hadn't come as any great surprise.

"All the signs were saying it was going to be tough to have big public gatherings," he said

"It's tough on inter-county players and club players who are in isolation at home and who are wondering."

The GAA will not, however, concede this year's Championships until such an outcome is unavoidable.

Last Friday, Special Congress granted powers to Central Council to arrange the All-Ireland competitions however they deem fit.

Officially, Croke Park's position is that it is "highly unlikely" there will be action on GAA pitches before July at the earliest.

But in the absence of any definitive time frame for the resumption of social normalities, the Minister's warning about mass gatherings suggests there will be no further inter-county games this year.

Speaking in the Dáil on Thursday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted "only a scientific breakthrough - a vaccine or an effective anti-viral medicine - will truly allow life to go back to being as it was".

The financial repercussions for Irish sport are potentially disastrous, particularly the GAA.

The majority of Croke Park's revenue is derived from gate receipts and associated income from a small number of games in the summer/early autumn months.

"We also have to think of sport as an industry as well", Whelan pointed out. "There are a lot of people employed by the GAA and your thoughts are with them as well. It's A difficult time for everybody We were living in hope. And this situation is fluid, it changes every week."

The lack of immediate clarity also means that players are left in limbo - preparing in isolation for a competition that is increasingly unlikely to happen.

The GPA will ballot members this week as to whether they are willing to play behind closed doors with minimal risk of infection.

In that scenario, the GAA could at least fulfil their broadcast obligations although the reality of playing big inter-county matches in empty grounds may be too unappealing.

"It wouldn't be the same for the players", Whelan pointed out.

"It would be a very difficult and surreal environment for them to have to perform in.

"We have to put them and their health and their safety first as well."

The prospect of club action this year is, however, far more likely. With comparatively small crowds and no cross county border travel required, the risk of a spread of infection is less pronounced.

As Whelan stated: "Maybe in two or three month's time, there may be hope around club football.

"And that may be only in particular counties, depending on what the situation is."

However, Minister Harris was cagey about the extent to which even recreational sport will return this year.

"Could you get to a point where you can't have massive GAA matches, but you could have local kids having a kickabout safely?" he outlined. "That's the sort of space that we're in, that we need to work our way through."