No pressure on anyone who opts out of return to GAA action - Donegal skipper Michael Murphy
IN THE past, Michael Murphy has done his best to persuade players thinking of opting out of a club or county squad to ‘give it another lash’. But the Donegal captain says he would draw the line at trying to change the mind of any team-mate who is uncomfortable with returning to team sports (the GAA have announced that club games can be played from July 31 with the inter-county season scheduled to begin on October 17) while there is a risk of Covid-19 infection.
“There have been people who have been comfortable with it from day one and there have been people who have had reservations,” said Murphy.
“Sometimes if a player doesn’t want to go training or commit for the year, you’ll give them a ring and say: ‘Listen, there’s a great opportunity here, get back in and give it a lash and see how it is for a few weeks and we’ll come back to it’.
“However, I feel that if a player was to put their hand up and say that they weren’t comfortable with it (returning to training) then the severity of these circumstances is resonating differently and that person’s viewpoint would be respected. If one of the players in our group was to say that they’re not comfortable then the decision definitely would be respected.”
He added that it was “highly likely” that some players – perhaps those with young families or elderly relatives at home - would opt out of this year’s programme but the recent relaxation of the Covid-19 restrictions have made him more comfortable about taking some initial steps towards a return to normality.
“The measures that have been lifted in the last couple of weeks have given me a bit more confidence that we can get out and about a little bit more,” he said.
“Obviously you can’t be complacent but I feel a lot more confident going around meeting people. Whether everybody else feels like that, I’m not too sure. Seeing other sports up-and-running I feel that we can take the measures that they have put in place to try and thwart this (the risk of Covid-19 infection) and get football back up-and-going.”
Murphy’s county manager Declan Bonner has called for a nationwide Championship draw this year which would mean a shift away (at least temporarily) from the provincial system. Donegal were drawn against Tyrone in their Ulster Championship opener so that may change if a new format is introduced. But whoever Donegal meet, Murphy says the Tir Chonaill men would need adequate time to prepare.
“It would be daunting against any team and I suppose the fear is that you could be given a 10-day turnaround (between the club and county seasons) to prepare for a knockout game,” he said.
“You would want three or four weeks to prepare for that. We need to figure out what is an achievable way to do it all but I think that in Donegal we’re in a very fortunate position with the (championship) structure we have (a group stage of three matches, with successful sides progressing to quarter-final, semi and final). We have an opportunity to run that and that would give the county team the opportunity to prepare for Championship. How that works countrywide or for dual counties is another question.”
With the late finish to this year’s season, how will next year’s fixture calendar be laid out? Murphy admits that he was hasn’t “thought that far ahead yet” but accepts that there is a risk of a ‘wrap-around’, a continuous season that could see successful teams playing right up to August 2021.
“It’s something we have to think about,” he said.
“Again, it’s not going to be ideal. You’ll have some saying we need a huge break, some saying we need to keep going.
“My belief is that we need to compromise and look at a way to navigate a way through the 2020 season and get football up-and-going. For me that’s the number one objective. Is everybody going to agree with the structure? Potentially not. But we need to get football back – I want it to play in and I believe we, as a nation, need it to watch with the necessary precautions in place.
“Then we need to navigate through the 2021 season. It’s a worry that we’re going to wrap-around into it because it is new but we’re just going to have to try and get on with it to get our games going.”
When football does resume, Murphy explained that Donegal’s players should all be fully fit. Oisin Gallen, Stephen McMenamin and Paddy McGrath have all put injury problems behind them during the lockdown.
“This break has been absolutely ideal for them, it’s been perfect,” said Murphy.
“They were able to adjust their rehab to get themselves ready for the club championship. I have been using the time to work on the niggly areas that would have been problematic for me in terms of groin strains. Hopefully I’ll be as strong as possible when the barrage of games comes.”