FOLLOWING the latest communication from the GAA a couple of weeks ago, we now know that it will be Easter at the earliest before training can resume for teams all over the country—both for clubs and county. That is a rather vague piece of information as this does not give any indication in what form things may resume. However, it is the best the GAA could offer at this point, because, if the truth be told, they have no idea.
What this communication has done is sparked the ongoing debate as to whether club or county should take prominence when things do eventually return. Initially, when the GAA was planning a late February return date, the vision was clear that the intercounty season should be played first with the All-Ireland Final due to be take place in July. This was subsequently moved to August, before the extension of the lockdown due to Covid-19.
A September start to Club Championships up and down the country would have been largely accepted, but is that viable now? If the National Football Leagues are played off as planned, this would make it even more difficult.
In my own opinion, I felt the club first approach worked well in 2020 as club players could prepare adequately for a short, sprint season between September and October. I do feel if a Club Championship commenced any later, you would run the risk of playing in difficult conditions with poor pitches and a shortage of floodlit pitches in many corners of the country. That is from a logistics perspective, but imagine turning round to a club player and tell them they may not play Championship football for the next eight or nine months? The drop off would be alarming.
Club players make up approximately 98 per cent of the total GAA population, 100 per cent when you add in the county players representing their clubs. I understand there was concern expressed after county finals that took place last year, but I am not aware of any Covid-19 outbreaks within a club environment such as a club ground or training or game environment. Most outbreaks came from celebrations held in public houses or establishments, which is out of the control of the GAA.
Another potential advantage of holding the Intercounty Championship during winter months would be the possibility of welcoming back supporters to the bigger grounds in some capacity, but again, this is purely speculative with the bottom line being that nobody really knows what the next few months will bring.
Whatever does happen and whatever the decision the GAA do make, I think it will largely be accepted due to the relief and sheer joy of better things to come, but I do feel that if intercounty is to take preference, then the league would either need to be scrapped or greatly reduced along with the Provincial Championships, in favour of a 32-team open draw knockout format. This would enable Club Championships to take place at an earlier stage and not lose too much ground.
We live in hope.
Davy is a sport and GAA fanatic from Meath and keen footballer for his local club, Cortown GFC, located just outside Kells. He is also the co-host of the We Are Meath podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @Davy_Rispin