Enda McGinley: Age-old GAA issues will be magnified on resumption
TODAY, if the GAA goes ahead and publishes it's return-to-play roadmap, it could be the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel that we have all been waiting on.
Back in the middle of March, when the shutdown was initially brought in, the thought that the boots would still be gathering dust in the bag almost three months on would have seemed as ridiculous as the thought that we would be needing a hosepipe ban given the swamped pitches we were trying to train on.
Yet, as quickly as things spiralled away from normality, they are now appearing to head in the other direction.
It now seems a matter of when and how GAA activities get going again, rather than if.
The roadmap will aim to lay out a timeframe in terms of activities and guidance regarding club preparation and levels of preventative measures required for those activities.
It is likely to be far from business as usual.
There is word of clubs being required to appoint Covid-19 supervisors at grounds to ensure patrons obey the rules.
There is likely to be a need for additional signage around grounds to advise about rules and guidance. Further steps like hand-washing stations and sanitisers will presumably be required, while temperature-checking at grounds has also been mooted.
The fact that such additional measures come at a time when clubs have seen income hit through loss of fundraisers, gate receipts and lotto sales is far from ideal. With the prospect, again likely to be outlined in the roadmap, of restricted attendances or behind-closed-doors games, the ongoing strain on club finances is something which needs to be considered.
The government might have a magic money tree to pay for such measures in hospitals and public buildings but few clubs have one of those growing behind their goals.
Whether you agree or disagree with the GAA's various decisions to date, they have been commendably clear and decisive, something which has had a big hand in their success.
Blanket rules work for shutting things down, but it will be much more difficult to avoid ambiguity as they open things up.
The opening of the tracks around pitches has been well signposted as likely to occur from Monday, with groups of up to four allowed to gather. Will players be allowed to participate in running programmes on the tracks as long as they comply with the rules?
If running, can they carry a ball and do some skill work on the track too? Is it about keeping within the letter of the law, even if showing a flagrant disregard for the spirit of it, a la Dominic Cummings?
Exploiting loopholes is something of a national hobby and the GAA top brass will have to be on top of its game if it is to produce a coherent plan that can be consistently implemented across every unit of the association.
Essentially, if the roadmap outlines a return to club competitive action, it will be like sounding the starting pistol on a mad race between teams determined to be ahead of their rivals when competitive action returns.
Leave any room for manoeuvre and teams, starved of action for so long, will drive a horse and cart through any opening where subjective interpretation of the rules is allowed.
OF course there are so many more questions regarding that return to activity and so many ‘what if' scenarios.
For a start, what format are competitions going to take? Croke Park will not be issuing any information on this, it will be the county boards who will have to make the most of the time the roadmap affords them.
One would assume competitions will be rejigged. Considering a return to full training is pencilled in for July 20, the earliest matches could occur is the first, or more likely, second week in August.
With the provisional county season proposed to commence in October, that leaves approximately seven to eight weeks for a club season to occur.
Something like a small group league, which could be used as seeding into a knock-out championship, might be the way to make best use of this time.
Throw in dual clubs or reserve and underage competitions and the impossibility of a perfect arrangement becomes clear.
The temptation is to get greedy and start games earlier and/or play two per week. That could be putting quantity ahead of quality.
Early information from the Bundesliga showed a threefold increase in injury levels across the first two rounds of games, serving as a timely reminder of
the difficulties for teams and players who have had such an interrupted season.
The other plot twist is the change in the status quo of county v club priorities. With club championships likely to occur in September and county action to commence in October, there will undoubtedly be a few interesting conversations ahead amongst all involved.
Of course, the context that all this activity occurs in will continue to be dictated by the larger Covid-19 picture. Here again, there is obvious room for confusion.
As I type this midweek, the much talked of ‘R' rate in the south lies at a lowly and very safe-looking 0.5-0.6, while up here it's a much more precarious 0.9.
Given that 1.0 is the key figure, it's clear that the two authorities may have to head in different directions. Then there is the way Covid-19 will be managed with track and trace operational. Localised clusters may result in localised locking down of activities. How would that work regarding competitions if teams are affected?
So many questions, so many unknowns. The roadmap will give a much better idea in terms of the way forward but it certainly will not have all the answers. In all of this we can keep telling ourselves that we are lucky to be getting back playing at all.
Yet, if or when the starter pistol sounds, that altruistic attitude will be left in the dust as the race begins.