Doubts over GAA roadmap aims
THE GAA has produced a blueprint for the phased return of Gaelic Games - and then cast doubt on whether its own aims were achievable.
The association set a target date of July 31 for the return of club activity, and while less concrete on inter-county games, they remain hopeful that they can return beyond October 17 at the earliest.
Inter-county teams will not be permitted to train together until September 14, a move that GAA Director of Player, Club and Games Administration, Feargal McGill admitted was unlikely to be popular with managers.
However, it is also likely to cause consternation for clubs and players, given the near certainty of a tug-of-war over players as they resume inter-county training at the height of club championships.
A white paper released earlier this week that showed the amount of time players spend in close proximity to each other during games gave as much cause for concern as it did optimism.
The average incursion within a 2-metre zone of an opponent was mere seconds, but the paper also stated that during an inter-county game, each player was exposed to an average of 539 incursions per game.
Yet Dr Kevin Moran, Donegal team doctor and a member of the GAA’s Covid-19 advisory group, admitted that “if social distancing remains two meters, then there cannot be contact”.
“I don’t believe it is possible to have contact training,” he said.
“However, the trends over the last few weeks is that the R value was decreased, our intensive care and hospitals are almost empty of Covid patients and the mortality rate has decreased dramatically.
“All the indications are that over the next few weeks is that the situation will settle. If we look at the way the pandemic has evolved in Europe and here at home, the pandemic has been brought into control in most parts of Europe.
“The second wave that everyone was worried about has not happened but may well yet happen and there is no place for complacency.
“The studies we have looked at internationally will also suggest that the virus is weakening. It will be step by step.
“If the first step goes well, players going back to training with two metres of distancing… then we would be able to progress to contact training.
“But there are no absolute guarantees about anything. This is a fluid situation, it is still evolving.”
The GAA is expecting to know more about the limits that will exist on spectator numbers later in the year once it enters phase four of its return on July 20.
And while president John Horan said that they hoped there would be attendances but that they would be restricted in terms of size, director general Tom Ryan effectively ruled out the idea of a behind-closed-doors championship.
Asked if in the event of playing games behind closed doors, the GAA would consider relaxing its broadcasting deal and showing all games live as in the English Premier League, Ryan replied: “Games behind closed doors is not really something that we want.
“It’s not something we’re really contemplating, it’s not something we’re actively pursuing to be honest. The answer is no.
“You’re really talking about last, last resort territory there, and we’re not contemplating it at all under any circumstances, really.”
The GAA plans to reveal its plans for the restructured inter-county season once they are in phase three of their return, which they will aim to begin on June 29, in line with Irish government guidelines.
But with the R-number, which is used to measure the virus’s ability to spread, sitting higher in the north than in the Republic of Ireland, Horan also admitted that events north of the border could yet dictate the GAA’s policy.
“Obviously the R number is key to all of this and it is lower in the 26 counties,” said the GAA president.
“But it is moving in a positive direction than before and the actual playing of the games, I think that will be moving in the positive direction.
“If it doesn’t and that becomes a problem and it moves in the wrong direction in either jurisdiction then obviously we would have to review it.”
Asked if an outbreak in an isolated area could force clubs to close down individually, Dr Kevin Moran said that it “would be for public health to decide, not the GAA”.
“We are in the business of minimising risk and everybody acknowledges that until such time as there is a vaccine or an anti-viral, risk cannot be eliminated completely, but at this point in time, the public health guidelines we have is that the risk is minimal,” he said.