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'Possible’ return remark has GAA buzzing

Wexford hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald, pictured at a Walsh Cup game in Callan, Co. Kilkenny, on Jan. 12, believes GAA needs “another month or so” before making any decisions. INPHO/TOM O’HANLON

By P.J. Cunningham

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar produced the biggest single play of the GAA season to date when he strongly hinted at the weekend that the government’s projection for sport could include the playing of games later in the summer-autumn period.

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After weeks of negativity being leaked from the Cabinet suggesting the possibility of football or hurling receding in 2020 because of the Covid-19 lockdown, his remark on RTE at the weekend had some GAA players “buzzing” as Wexford Hurling manager Davy Fizgerald later described it.

While Mr Varadkar insisted on a cautious approach whereby sporting activity would be largely dependent on the success of the phased return the new normality, it flied in the face of what his Health Minister, Simon Harris, had stated previously.

Under the phases details announced on Friday night, there will be a return to a number of sports including GAA activity from July 20 once public health condiditions are adhered to by teams. It was after this that Mr Varadkar brought up the “possible” return of big games but behind closed doors.

It is anticipated that the GAA’s Management Committee, which was ceded power at a Special Congress to make decisions on an on-going basis over the next three months, will look at getting the club scene up and running before turning their attention to what, if anything, is possible on the inter-country front.

Croke Park has engaged with county boards on a regular basis and according to President John Horan, they have been put on notice to be ready for a return to re-opening their games within the next few months.

What could slow down progress is the Association’s insistence that player safety will be paramount in its thinking. There is a fear from medical experts that contact sport may be a breeding ground for the virus until a vaccine is found. If that proves to be the case, then it will severely limit the ambitions for contact sport.

The Taoiseach held up the prospect of an August-September time frame to restart games which could mean a late October staging of championship denouements. However within the GAA, there is a strong cohort which believe the Association should not risk anything in 2020 and take the financial hit on the chin.

There is no doubt that GAA lovers are feeling the loss of their pastimes with suggestions that a complete lockdown is already affecting the mental health of many followers.

Davy Fitzgerald said Mr Varadkar’s comments had several of his Wexford squad “buzzing” at the thought of getting back to training with a view to competitive games later on this year. He accepted though that the GAA would probably be in much better place if “they leave it another month or so before making their decisions.”

The former Clare star said that even if it meant playing games behind close doors, he would be in favor of such a scenario. He said a lot of players too were getting fed up of the inactivity, “but after the announcement the other night, I must have got seven or eight texts, and some lads rang me and they were actually buzzing to tell you the truth at the prospect of even maybe having games.

Admitting that he himself had found the previous few weeks “pretty tough going,” he went on: “Now, not all GAA players are going to be that way, I haven't talked to them all - but I’ve talked to a good lot of them. Once they got that small bit of hope, they were delighted.”

As a person suffering with an on-going heart condition, Fitzgerald said he knew the risks until the Corona virus was brought under control and he felt that it would not be going away anytime soon.

“The question is, do we just cocoon and stay in like this forever, or do we try and get out and manage it as best we can and be as safe as we possibly can?”

His own view was that everything would have to take place in a safe environment. “If they get something played … and the people could look at the game, if they were televised, I think people would love to see a game if they could. But only, only, if we were fairly certain that we could pull it off and that our players, everybody, would be as safe as possible. That would be the scenario we would like to see in August-September, if we could,” he added.