Games return welcomed but concerns remain for GAA players says Kilcoo's Conleith Gilligan
CLUB challenge games are permitted in the North again from today (July 11) but the removal of the ban on Thursday night has come too late for many clubs, including last year's Ulster champions Kilcoo.
With county league programmes beginning from July 17 and the threat of Covid-19 still looming large, club management teams remain nervous about the twin threats of injury and spreading the virus.
Conleith Gilligan, assistant-manager to Mickey Moran at Kilcoo (Down and Ulster champions and All-Ireland finalists last year) says the Magpies will keep their powder dry and continue with training until they begin their league campaign with a clash against local rivals Clonduff next Friday night.
“It's great that we are able to play games again in the North but it's a very short window to try and organise anything so we have nothing for this weekend,” said the Ballinderry native.
Gilligan explained that “a lot of worries” remained and that the club's priority was to ensure the safety of players and high-risk family members.
“The players are fine and they are keen to give it a go but there is a backdrop that if anybody catches anything they are putting somebody at home at risk,” he said.
“There is always a risk at the minute, the Covid infection rate is on the increase slightly so you are always watching and trying to make sure that everybody is as safe as possible and Kilcoo have put in great measures.”
The former Derry star admitted that the club was “feeling our way in the dark like everybody else” and said his hope was that the season could be completed successfully but, more importantly, safely.
“The hope is that we can get a season where nobody gets infected - that's where it's at,” he said.
“The more games you play, the more your squad is exposed to external influences from other areas and you are increasing the risk (of spreading the virus).
“We have played one game and that will do us. Once we go into the league we're playing teams from our own locality – we're playing Clonduff in a local derby so that's probably safer than going to play a team from another county.”
Kilcoo did have one challenge game in Louth before the ban on games in the six counties was lifted, but the club will not play another before they meet ‘the Yellas' next weekend.
“No matter how much you train, or how hard you train, nothing replicates the intensity of a match,” said Gilligan.
“Playing that game in Louth was just a case of getting everybody out and getting them all going. Everybody is in the same boat, there will be very few teams in Down that will have played more than one challenge game before the first league game.
“So there is nobody with an advantage, everybody has had the same amount of time to prepare and nobody really knows where the form is, which makes it very interesting. We have three games in three weeks and then it's the championship.
“It'll be a case of seeing how we go and hoping that nobody gets injured because, more often than not, the team that can pick from a full squad will have a big say in who wins the championship.”
All challenge games must be played behind closed doors with those attending games limited to essential personnel (players, team management personnel, medics, Covid supervisors, match officials, working media).
“There is an onus on clubs and counties to enforce the no spectators regulation rigidly,” stressed Ulster GAA in a statement.
“Hopefully within a very short space of time there will be provision for some spectators to attend games but until such times games can take place with only essential personnel being present.”
Meanwhile, the GAA management committee has issued new match Day regulations which must be implemented when competitive games return from July 17.
One-minute water breaks will be introduced into games between the 15th and 20th minutes of each half and a maximum of 24 players (starting 15 and nine-panel members) will be allowed within the pitch enclosure during the playing of the game. Panel members can rotate between inside and outside of the pitch enclosure. There is no limit on the size of a club match day panel.