Training row may only make Dublin stronger

Dublin manager Dessie Farrell has been banned for 12 weeks by his county board after a group of his players were pictured having a collective training session Picture by Philip Walsh

DUBLIN, like Cork and Down, broke the 11th commandment – ‘Thou shalt not get caught'.

County team management set-ups can be paranoid when it comes to dealing with the press at the best of times, and that will surely only grow now that a group of Dublin footballers have been caught training together, in contravention of government and GAA rules in the fight against Covid-19.

I suspect the collective press will receive much less cooperation in the future, especially within the counties mentioned above.

You would be naïve to think that every county team is not doing something collectively, in small groups at the very least.

To be honest, I have some sympathy with inter-county teams and their management.

When action resumes and that ball is eventually thrown in, Covid or not, the pressure will be serious and managers and players will feel it.

I have felt those pressures to perform coming from fans, and I am sure managers I've worked under have felt them too.

You can see it and feel it on them.

Dublin will not be under the same type of pressure in comparison to a Down management team, or Armagh's even.

Nevertheless, Dublin boss Dessie Farrell will be conscious that they are on top of the perch and the rest of Ireland are looking to knock them off it.

Only a few counties can do it, but if you rest on your laurels you will be knocked off that perch very quickly.

Farrell won't want to be the manager to preside over Brian Fenton's first defeat at senior level, nor will he want to give up that winning run of All-Irelands titles Dublin are on.

Nonetheless, as a former GPA chief, a health worker and manager of the biggest team in the country, I was surprised Farrell took that chance.

He may have gotten away with it had it simply been a number of the players who took it upon themselves to meet as a collective.

However, with a coach clearly present at the gathering the Dublin County Board had no real choice but to make a pre-emptive strike and suspend Farrell.

A 12-week ban is in line with what his counterparts in Cork and Down received from the authorities.

Unlike some, I am not into the hysterical stuff – the punishment is sufficient and, dare I say it, it should be the end of the matter.

I do not think the GAA needs to do anything more, other than to publicly remind Dublin of the current protocols, and indirectly the message to all other county management teams will be pretty clear.

Frustratingly, given the statistics in terms of outdoor transmission of Covid-19, the fact inter-county football in this country is not deemed ‘elite' while other sports are is a nonsense.

The virus doesn't know that in two weeks all collective training will be able to commence lawfully.

The GAA, right across the spectrum, operated very effectively last summer so government insistence, north and south, that outdoor activity could not continue has had huge consequences on the mental and physical health of so many juveniles and adults.

To a certain degree, the authorities in Croke Park have created an issue when alternatives were available.

That alternative was to seek and secure ‘elite' status for the

inter-county game.

We should be in the latter stages of a National League programme, and while this competition would in no way ease the frustrations we all have in the absence of free movement, it would definitely lift the national mood if we had a televised game to look forward to most weeks.

This is what the GAA and the Irish Government have misjudged.

Soccer and rugby have both been able to function at national and international level and the instances of Covid transmission have been negligible.

In fairness, Larry McCarthy, the newly-appointed GAA President, has stated that he would prefer to see underage coaching commence as soon as possible, and this has been overwhelmingly welcomed.

By next week, teams will be able to train in pods of 15 and, while our clubrooms remain closed, it will be brilliant to see our communities congregate at GAA fields again.

While we pray to the weather gods for something similar to the first lockdown, most families involved in GAA will just be happy with some on-field action – rain, hail or shine.

And the while the North continues to vaccinate the public at a hare's pace, the Republic is lagging badly behind when it comes to administering injections.

You do wonder, with so much time available while a vaccine was being developed, how a government could be so unprepared to devise an effective and efficient system of delivering jabs into arms.

One presumes this will have implications on the GAA given that the island operates under two different jurisdictions.

When will the National League and Championship begin, given that it is likely the North will be first to the starting line from a vaccination perspective?

The North cannot start without the Republic so, from a GAA perspective, it is important to move as one.

From a common sense perspective, I cannot understand why the GAA remains bullish about starting a League and Championship programme first, rather than moving these competitions to the second half of the year.

It is likely spectators may be allowed back into grounds by then and society will have moved a bit closer to ‘normality', so it would make sense to try and recoup some lost revenue.

The adoption of a split season will not be lost on most GAA observers and, given the positive reviews heaped on the club championships in 2020, taking a similar approach in 2021 would allow the GAA to plan for an uninterrupted 2022 season, without undue time pressures.

A 12-week ban or not, Dessie Farrell's absence from the sideline will have a minimal impact in any regard on this current Dublin squad.

The players have such experience, skill and leadership that they could train, pick and manage themselves.

Dublin do not need a siege mentality, a ‘them and us' mindset, but I fear that in the last few weeks, simply by doing their jobs, the press have just given them one.

Another reason for them to prove they remain on top of that very secure perch.

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