Former Armagh footballer Oisin McConville backs the idea of a split season with clubs given the first half followed by inter-county competition in the second. INPHO/MORGAN TREACY
By P.J. Cunningham
The GAA thinking around the Covid-19 virus is very much short-term – with the hope of getting behind-closed-doors championships run at club and county level in 2020 very much the extent of their current ambitions.
Yet as we see the re-emergence of the Corona Virus around the world in the past week, perhaps it is now pertinent to start thinking about, well, the unthinkable – ‘What if the current situation also becomes the norm for next year?’
As an organization that ploughs almost all of its profits back into the grassroots, then GAA has a very finite amount of reserve finance available to carry it over another season without substantial ‘gate’ revenue.
Playing in empty stadia the length and breadth of the land has been a novel but forced option to playing nothing at all this season. However if the same restrictions apply in ’21, then it becomes a real financial burden not just to exist but to keep the level of service that currently applies.
The association has a €20 million pay-roll between Croke Park and the 500 people who represent it around the country. That would put a huge strain on book balancing and it could mean employees might have to adapt to radical change in circumstance.
The government is being forced to hand out money in all directions – which normally means that sports join in at the tail-end of the queue.
Former President Nicky Brennan is worried about where the GAA will find itself next spring. “If there’s going to be no change next year – no vaccine or treatment – are counties going to incur the cost of the county game? It’s impossible to say at this stage but it’s the biggest challenge – how long does this go on and how does the GAA survive if there’s no end in sight? We just don’t know,” he told the Irish Times.
Equally the past week has seen a cloud form over plans for the rest of this year. The county panels are supposed to be meeting in the middle of next month but if lockdowns such as Laois, Offaly and Kildare are extended or if increases in Covid-19 cases emerge in greater numbers from the club scene, then all that planning need a serious overhaul.
The fact that the National Public Health Emergency Team which advises the government refused to extend the parameters for attendances at game to 500 from the current 200, shows its lack of confidence in current strategies.
This obviously has a serious impact for county boards - a potential loss of €3,000 per game. Inevitably this could see local boards telling players they will not pay them their normal expenses as this item alone is the biggest cost facing every county on an annual basis.
Mr Brennan made the point that even without crowds at matches, it is hugely important both mentally and psychologically that people have something to look forward to at the end of the week. As he rightly pointed out, it takes fans’ mind off their own problems and the bleak future that is out there.
On the prospect of two very distinct time-slots for club and championship seasons which has arisen out of the shutdown in activity, there is a growing consensus that this avenue should be followed. Former Tipperary goalkeeper, Ken Hogan, has nailed his colors in favor of a split season.
“I would say that, based on what we have seen in 2020, a split season is a definite. It’s a no-brainer. To have county players involved with their clubs is just a huge boost to every parish in the country. It would be just fantastic if they did come up with a double season because everyone knows where they stand when it comes to games,” he pointed out.
On how inter-county fare might work late in the year, he went on: “We have top class stadiums, most of them are floodlit and the venues will be in great nick even come November and December. So it can be managed. It would be a shame if we didn’t utilise our pitches, fixtures and most of all, our greatest asset, our players.The double season would also give the club player an opportunity to show form to the county management,” he added.
Ex-Armagh star Oisín McConville backed Hogan’s stance, claiming that clubs should be given the first six months of the year with the inter-county to follow.
“The club scene has got a new lease of life since we resumed after lockdown. Inter-county players are recognizing their club much more, are seeing a different side to things. Volunteers are more appreciated,” he stressed.