GAA Football

Covid19 lockdown is a good time to sort out fixtures calendar: Anto Finnegan

Anto Finnegan says the GAA shouldn't rush back to the playing field Picture: Ann McManus.

FORMER Antrim footballer Anto Finnegan hopes the GAA won’t return to action before treatments can be found to successfully fight Covid19 – and that the enforced down-time will give all the major stakeholders in the Association space to come up with a fixtures calendar that works for everybody.

In an in-depth interview in today's Irish News, Finnegan also discusses his eight-year battle with Motor Neurone Disease [MND] and compares the radical adjustments he’s been forced to make in his life over that period and the impact the current Covid19 lockdown is having on people’s day-to-day living.

With the Irish government banning public gatherings of more than 5,000 people until at least September, the prospect of an inter-county Championship taking place this year is decidedly slim.

While every fan is naturally anxious to see the return of sport, Finnegan says patience is absolutely essential in overcoming the coronavirus pandemic and that effective treatments would need to become readily available before a resumption.

“I would like to think the GAA will not be hasty to rush back in order to get the season finished,” said Finnegan, an ambassador for the charity DeterMND.

“Let’s take our time, let’s see the back of this and we can all go out and celebrate and enjoy all the games that we love in a safe environment, and not be rushing back and ending up back at square one.”

Both Ireland and Britain are discussing lifting some of the lockdown restrictions – but social distancing is expected to remain a key feature of people’s lives for a long time to come which makes it doubly difficult for team sport to make a swift comeback.

“Until there is a vaccine or a suitable treatment for Covid19, it looks difficult,” said Finnegan.

“If either one of those becomes available I’d be the first one to say: ‘Right, get everything opened up again.’

“I understand what the government and agencies are doing – creating six and 12-week windows – but I think we need to have the mindset that we are probably in this for the long haul, and that it’s going to be challenging.

“But we can’t lose sight of why we’re doing what we're doing every day – protecting the people that we love.”

Finnegan, who was one of Antrim’s leading players in the mid-to-late 1990’s and early ‘Noughties’, is deemed ‘high risk’ to Covid19 because of his medical condition.

“What is the point in rushing it towards the end of the year just to get the Championship played?

“I would prefer if the GAA used this down time to formulate a fixtures calendar for club, county and the universities and split the calendar between club and county and also to take into account the universities, and allow the players some down time and take away any pressure there is on them. There are really intelligent people in the GAA, the GPA and CPA to come up with something that can work and is which doable. I think that is the best way we can spend this down-time.”

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