Club may now come before county for GAA Headquarters

Continuing restrictions on spectators may force the GAA to change their fixture plans for 2021 Picture by Séamus Loughran
Pádraig Ó Meiscill

THERE may be an exclusive window for the GAA's club championships to take place in the first half of next year due to concerns about crowd restrictions on the inter-county Championships.

When the GAA's management committee met on Saturday, it was expected to sign off on a calendar that would see the 2021 Championships completed by July. Instead, the Central Council won't now take a decision on next year's fixtures schedule until next month as they consider the possibility of starting the club season before the county one.

The Central Competitions Controls Committee presented plans on Friday night for the inter-county Championships to begin in April with no provision included for a Super8 series in the football. Other major changes expected to be given the green light were for National League divisions to be split into two groups, on a regional basis initially, in an attempt to limit travel in the context of the pandemic. Pre-season tournaments, including the McKenna Cup, were to be put on ice for the year, with the leagues beginning at the end of February.

Now, however, with the prospect of Covid-related restrictions on spectator sport stretching well into 2021, club may finally come before county for Headquarters. While the Twenty-Six Counties are to move to Level 3 restrictions from tomorrow and plans for a mass vaccination program are being put in place, even Level 1 restrictions would limit crowds at games to 200 people.

And in the unlikely event that restrictions were to be lowered far enough to allow a token number of fans into Croke Park for December's All-Ireland finals, Waterford hurling manager Liam Cahill wouldn't like to see it.

“I don't foresee crowds. I don't think it would be right either,” Cahill said following the Déise's thrilling victory over Kilkenny in Saturday's All-Ireland semi-final.

“Where do you start or who do you allow in? To be fair, our games are about community, about everybody. It's hard enough to have restrictions. If you put restrictions on who you are letting in, I don't think that's what our games are about or the GAA is about.”

Meanwhile, appearing on RTÉ radio yesterday, Dublin health minister Stephen Donnelly warned the GAA there could be no “exuberant” mass celebrations following next month's finals.

“It needs to not happen,” Donnelly said.

“The GAA, I think, is taking this very seriously, and measures have already been put in place.”

With the association making a range of cuts and requiring a government grant to stage this year's Championships, the issue of gate receipts is a considerable factor in future planning. Delaying the inter-county season until such time as supporters can go to games in something approaching normal numbers may consequently be decided upon.

While the Club Players' Association had already backed the CCCC's proposal to roll the county competitions out before club contests, a number of prominent figures, including Tipperary senior hurling manager Liam Sheedy, have supported the clubs going first.

The GAA hopes to receive more information about when they can stage the outstanding U20 football final, the U20 hurling championship and both minor championships from the government early this week.

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