Counties will only default from Championship 'in exceptional circumstances' says Ulster GAA's Brian McAvoy
A POSITIVE Covid-19 test in the Donegal panel served as a warning shot just over a month away from the start of the All-Ireland Championship, but Ulster Council secretary Brian McAvoy insists counties would only be forced to default “in exceptional circumstances”.
The Tir Chonaill’s preparations for their November 1 Ulster SFC knockout clash with Tyrone - and the final two games of their National League campaign - suffered a setback when the panel had to go into isolation, while the Donegal final has also been postponed following a positive test within the Kilcar squad.
They were due to face defending champions Naomh Conaill on Sunday, but that game has now been moved back to Wednesday, October 7. Between them, Kilcar and Naomh Conaill contribute eight players to Declan Bonner’s panel.
In Down earlier this month, RGU Downpatrick were ousted from the county SFC as a Covid cluster rendered them unable to fulfil their fixture with eventual finalists Carryduff in time to suit a tight schedule.
With the inter-county Championship being run off on a weekly basis between October 31 and the All-Ireland final on December 19, McAvoy admits there is “no real scope for manoeuvre” in the event of a Covid cluster developing within any county squad.
“There will be national protocols, but essentially because the Championship is being run on a week by week basis, there could well be a situation arises where a team has to default,” he said.
“We’ve already seen it with the hurling where Lancashire, Warwickshire and London aren’t participating, nor are New York in the football. We would hope it’s a last resort.
“Inter-county Gaelic players are elite sportsmen, so they are working under slightly different conditions to the rest of us. A default would only be in exceptional circumstances.
“I would think it’s highly unlikely but, as we’ve seen with the Down championship, there’s no real scope for manoeuvre. At least Donegal did because it was a county final, but if matches are coming week on week, there’s not a lot of margin for error and that’s the problem.”
In order to try and allow as many supporters to watch games, even if they are not in attendance, the GAA is understood to have been in talks about the possibility of showing all Championship games.
And McAvoy hopes progress can be made on that front before the big throw-in.
“Streaming and broadcasting has been key. That’s something we’re working on, to ensure all our games are televised. We hope that will be the case.
“Nothing’s across the line yet but we certainly hope we’ll be able to get live coverage of our games. That would be a help.”
The Ulster final remains the showpiece of the provincial Championship, but where the November 22 takes place remains to be seen after Clones was ruled out due to a lack of floodlights at St Tiernach’s Park.
Croke Park had been suggested as a possible alternative , in order to facilitate as large a crowd as possible. However, with Dublin restrictions on supporters seemingly unlikely to change to any significant degree, McAvoy says Ulster GAA is still weighing up its options.
“Anything is possible but, as it stands today, Croke Park actually has the least capacity of any county ground in Ireland [due to current restrictions affecting Dublin]. It’ll just depend.
“Any of our county grounds with floodlights are all possibilities.”