A good day to bury bad news, but GAA must make up for 'reputational damage'

Monaghan manager Seamus McEnaney has been banned for 12 weeks
Neil Loughran

IN terms of choreography, yesterday might have ended up a good day to bury bad news as the GAA unveiled its revamped fixtures masterplan – but there was no escaping the “reputational damage” caused by the latest training breach storm according to president Larry McCarthy.

While the finer details of the new-look 2021 calendar were being double-checked, Croke Park was sent into a spin as The Irish Independent reported that Monaghan were the latest county to have breached Covid-19 collective training guidelines.

Video footage and photographic evidence appearing to show Farney footballers engaged in a training session in Corduff during recent weeks formed part of a dossier that was also sent to the GAA and the Irish government’s Department of Justice.

The county board launched an immediate investigation and just after midday - less than two hours before the wraps were to be taken off the fixtures masterplan - a statement from Monaghan GAA confirmed manager Seamus McEnaney had admitted “a serious error of judgement” and “apologised unreservedly for the indiscretion”.

McEnaney was suspended for 12 weeks with immediate effect by the county management committee, although a separate GAA investigation is already under way.

It came exactly a week after Dublin also suspended their manager, Dessie Farrell, for 12 weeks after pictures emerged of members of the All-Ireland winning panel involved in drills, which followed on from two other high-profile breaches of guidelines earlier this year involving Cork and Down.

GAA head honchos must have lamented the timing when the news broke yesterday.

Through the week McCarthy had spoken about how, in light of Dublin’s breach, any similar incident before the April 19 return to collective training would make things “very difficult” for the Association.

Well, here it was – and McCarthy believes there will be a knock-on effect in terms of public perception towards the GAA in these strained times.

“I think it has done us reputational damage, which we’re going to have to work to get back,” he said.

“There’s no appetite for any breaches in society at the moment, so undoubtedly it has. But we’ll continue to work to get that confidence back from the public again. And hopefully there won’t be any more breaches.

“Any breaches are going to concern us in terms of talking to any of the authorities. I just reiterate, if the breaches occur, obviously there is a finger that they’ll have an impact on us in terms of permissions that are going to be given by the government. That’s the reality of it.

“One of the things I think that’s going to help us in that is, okay the 19th is a deadline for us. But I’m looking forward much more to the 26th and having kids back, and then we can show what we really do in the communities.”

Figures revealed earlier this week showed that just one confirmed case of Covid-19 in every thousand is traced to outdoor transmission, and McCarthy insisted the GAA would be making a case for U18 activity in the south to resume before the April 26 date laid out in the government roadmap.

“The kids are coming back on the 26th and there’s no doubt we are talking to government consistently about having them back prior to that,” he said.

“We had been talking about getting them back as soon as possible. The science says there is less damage about kids being back so are we pushing for it? Yes, we are.”

Meanwhile, the GAA’s revamped roadmap for the rest of the year begins with the start of the National Hurling League on the weekend of May 8/9, while both All-Ireland hurling and football Championships will be completed by the end of August to clear the way for club championships.

With the vaccine rollout steadily improving across the country, there are tentative hopes that reduced numbers of supporters could return to stadiums by the end of the summer – though both McCarthy and Fergal McGill, the GAA’s director of games administration, were unsurprisingly non-commital.

“That’s a question for government and the health authorities, it’s not for us,” said McGill.

“I couldn’t answer that question, I really don’t know.”

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