Robert Kellaghan, PRO of Rhode GAA club, Co. Offaly, reopening the club gates at Fr. Dowling Park as part the reopening of walkways to the public. INPHO/JAMES CROMBIE
By P.J. Cunningham
The GAA is taking an ultra-cautious approach to re-opening of facilities but all grounds will be back in business by the end of this month.
The conservative approach is a deliberate ploy as the Association wants to put a step-by-step plan in place to ensure that there is no problems with a Covid-19 cluster surge within clubs or grounds.
GAA President John Horan has made it clear that his committee has deliberately chosen this path to avoid any pitfalls which might be discovered too late if the GAA was to rush back into the fray.
However, the circumspect attitude has drawn criticism from a number of quarter, including from former Meath player and columnist Colm O’Rourke. He said that young people badly need the training and playing outlet and many will be lost to the Association by this slowness to respond. He also said that opening to club before county was an error of judgement.
“As it turns out the GAA would have been better off without their own advisory group and gone with government regulations,” O’Rourke said.
In effect, the GAA is waiting until Phase 3 of the national plan before kick-starting its own strategy in a very structured way a return to training etc.
It will use the intervening time to give local club office holders the opportunity to fully understand how a responsible return will entail.
Explained Horan at the weekend: “What we have done is laid out a roadmap. The roadmap for the next three weeks is to prepare our clubs and our mentors to get ready for the resumption of training within our facilities. If we open our venues, people will come back in large numbers to actually use and exercise in the venues.
“You have got to appreciate the large membership we have in our organization and if we opened the pitches without training the officers and mentors on how to deal with the situation that we are dealing with, we would be making an error of judgement.
“There is a training program in place online to allow the officers and mentors at the clubs to get a planning structure in place. And even though people are going to be allowed back, they will have to arrive togged out, there will be no dressing rooms used, they will have to shower at home, so while it is positive there are still considerable restrictions in place."
Horan explained the logic of putting initial focus on club activity, leading up to the return of inter-county championship action in the middle of October. He accepted that this could see some competition unfinished in this calendar year, meaning they could spill into 2021.
Horan also referred to the difficulty posed by maintaining social distancing for crowds, explaining that it would mean some GAA grounds could not be considered for championship activity under the presnt government guidelines.
“Two meters will result in 25 per cent attendance at Croke Park, and if it is reduced to one metre, we can increase that. And it may mean we will be restricted in the number of venues that we will be able to use for inter-county competition because of the nature of our venues and controlling the crowd situation,” he told RTE.
The key points in the GAA’s ‘Safe Return to Gaelic Games’ are: Walkways on GAA pitches open from this week; Club gates will open on June 29; Juvenile and adult club championship games can commence from July 31; Inter-county training to commence on September ; The inter-county calendar begins from October 17; A full fixture calendar will be published in August.