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New drive to start GAA training

Golf is one of the sports that might come back early. INPHO/JAMES CROMBIE

By P.J. Cunningham

The Irish government is officially resisting the temptation to make any optimistic noises around a possible return to action for major sports with Health Minister Simon Harris making it clear that occasions of large gatherings for sporting occasions are likely ruled out for the rest of the year.

However in the background there is a new drive to allow Gaelic football and hurling teams to start training again over the summer months with a view to some sort of autumn competitions to be run off under strict supervision and guidelines.

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This plan is being developed by the Department Transport, Tourism and Sport and centers on the testing of up to 2,000 players, team managements and backroom support on a regular basis.

While officially there is virtually 100 per cent focus on the fight against the Covid-19 problem on a daily and weekly basis, there is also the recognition at government level that they will need to have progressed option for “the new normal” - whatever and whenever that happens to occur.

A Department source said there was now a need to look at alternatives. Top of that list at the moment is competitions to be played behind closed doors but even in such unappealing circumstances “we have to ensure that players and officials are protected.”

He added that horse racing, under a no-crowds policy attending meetings, is likely to be the first sport back up and running while golf and possibly cycling could also be set for earlier returns than team sports like GAA, rugby and soccer.

The GAA continues to make plans for activity despite the strong rebuff in last week’s announcement by the Health Minister. With a Special Congress allowing them to act quickly in the event of a scenario where the coronavirus plateaus or dips, the association’s management committee can meet and decide on the best options available.

They have already given a number of possibilities for county boards to prepare for on an on-going basis as Ireland’s capacity to test for the virus will reach a new high of 100,000 tests per week within a matter of weeks.

In correspondence with the various boards, Croke Park accepts that the provincial and All Ireland championship are almost certainly wiped out for 2020. What they want to keep on the table is the capacity to provide some sort of meaningful activity for a sports-starved public, even if it means games being televised behind closed doors.