GAA Football

GPA more optimistic about 2020 return to inter-county action

Donegal and Tyrone may still get to meet in Championship action this year.
Picture Margaret McLaughlin 

THE Gaelic Players Association (GPA) is understood to be more optimistic about inter-county matches going ahead this year, maybe even before a return to club action – perhaps as early as September.

The players’ body is aware that such a scenario would be “a PR disaster” for the GAA, accepts one source, but still believes that inter-county games would be more manageable in the absence of a coronavirus vaccine.

At the other extreme end of the scale in terms of ‘return to play’, a Donegal GAA icon has called for an end to all plans for inter-county activity for 2020.

There’s an element of self-interest to that as Donegal’s 1992 All-Ireland winning captain Anthony Molloy believes that a year’s break would help re-energise a side that has suffered significant injuries in recent years.

However, Molloy also argued that any return would be unfair on players in several respects:

“I can’t see any inter-county football and I don’t think it would be fair either at this stage because it is getting too late to prepare for an All-Ireland series.

“I think, and a lot of players are starting to agree with this, that it should be forgotten about until 2021 to be fair to everybody.

“I know life must go on and we all miss football on a Sunday, but lives are still far more important than any sport.

“The reality is that we just don’t know enough yet about this virus and certainly not enough to take a risk on social distancing in matches.

“I know people need hope and I agree with that, but they need realistic hope and the best and safest way to give that hope is to put off all GAA activity until next year” (see more on p50).

There’s more positivity emerging from the GPA after recent discussions, however, although they are unlikely to go public with any statements in order to avoid being accused of potentially triggering a second wave of the virus.

Although cynics might respond ‘they would say that, wouldn’t they?’, the body which represents inter-county players is understood to be of the opinion that the limited numbers of players involved in county teams makes a return to inter-county action more manageable than starting up the club scene.

With scientific evidence indicating that there may actually be less chance of contracting the virus outdoors than indoors, and that social distancing of only one metre may be sufficient, there is hope.

Studies also suggest that quick-moving sports such as Gaelic football, hurling, and soccer do not actually have significant levels of player-to-player contact (unlike, for example, rugby, or basketball, which takes place in a much more enclosed space).

A close eye is being kept on German soccer’s Bundesliga to monitor any on-pitch transmission of the virus.

Obviously an all-island approach to opening up, with the two jurisdictions working in tandem, would be beneficial to the chances of inter-county games taking place.

Calls to make 2020 ‘the year of the club’ fails to factor in the huge numbers of club players, and that’s only considering senior level; there will surely be a desire for underage players to get back playing too.

There has been talk in Cork of cul camps taking place this summer, although that would have to be with more limited numbers than is normally the case in order to apply social distancing measures.

Clearly there will be different views on what is and what isn’t ‘acceptable risk’.

Even more clearly, there will be no chance of ‘zero risk’ until an adequate coronavirus vaccine is developed.

Until such time as that occurs, players will have to consider their own ‘qualified risk’ assessment on whether they want to play or don’t want to play.

Insurance issues will come into the reckoning too – which could be another more problematic factor for clubs compared to counties - with players perhaps asked to sign waivers before participating in matches.

Overall, though, the return of the inter-county game is now seen as a more realistic proposition than was the case earlier this month.

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