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GAA activity returns, health fears persist

Kerry’s Gavin White, left, and Tiarnan McCann of Tyrone in action during the All Ireland semifinal played at Croke Park on Aug. 11, 2019. INPHO/LASZLO GECZO

By P.J. Cunningham

GAA pitches all over Ireland are opening a week sooner than was envisaged – but it won’t be all plain sailing back into training and playing as the government’s Roadmap hits several speed bumps

For a start, a number of clubs are finding it hard to find sufficient volunteers to safely re-open their training pitches and have opted to hit the old deadline of next Monday as the day-to-resume activity.

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And on a more macro front, the Gaelic Players’ Association has warned that as many as half a dozen players in every county panel may opt out for health and other reasons for the rest of 2020.

This survey from the GPA comes at a time when the GAA is close to finalizing plans for what an inter-county championship in hurling and football might look like this year.

As well as that they are close to finalizing plans for the new-look 2020 championships.

The relaxation on crowd congregating means that 50 people can attend indoor events and 200 outdoor fixtures from next week – with the latter figure rising to 500 once Phase 4 comes into play next month.

The GAA are happy to bring forward adult training with non-contact exercise today and underage squads will be able to do the same from next Saturday. Adherence to a maximum of 15 players in the Republic and 10 players in the north must be applied.

Club fixtures will be allowed from July 17 but intercounty training won’t be back before Sept. 14 with competitive matches kicking in from Oct. 17 onwards.

GPA CEO Paul Flynn said his organization would prefer an open-draw format rather than the existing provincial system to ensure the competitions were completed before the end of December.

Referring to the health and safety concerns, he pointed out that 17 per cent, or nearly one in five players, had indicated that they might decide to opt out of this year’s games over fears of a second wave of the Covid-19 virus.

Said former Dublin star Flynn: “While there is now government guidance around a safe return to team sports, we are aware that for some of you, your health and safety and that of your family and close friends remains a concern.

“We would call for understanding from county boards, managers, and supporters on this matter,” he said.

He added that three-quarters of his members wanted the competition to end so that 2021 could be a clean slate.

The GPA also raised the matter of inter-county training session organized before Mid-September and asked that they be covered by the GAA Injury Benefit Scheme. The Association also sought a minimum of four-week window between the completion of county club championships and the commencement of action on the inter-county front.

Another potential setback for the return to action was voiced by referees because of the resumption dates being brought forward.

All Ireland referee, David Coldrick (Meath) says some of his colleagues have doubts about returning so soon.

“Like players, referees are being asked to weigh up the risks involved and make individual decisions based on their own personal circumstances. That opt-in or opt-out clause applies for referees as much as it does for players and everybody else involved in the GAA.

I think there are referees that have very valid concerns. I know from talking to referees that they are weighing up family, where they might have elderly parents, and thoughts on their own jobs and employment if they were to contract the virus,” he explained.

The fear of the GAA going back too soon was also sounded by former President, Liam O’Neill, who said he preferred a slower approach to active on-field training and games.

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