GAA Football

Roadmap club-county balance 'fair' says Gallagher

Derry manager Rory Gallagher. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

RORY Gallagher believes that the GAA’s roadmap for a return-to-play is fair to club and county – and believes that county teams will learn lessons from lockdown in terms of how they operate.

The Derry manager says he believes that not only will the GAA’s directive of county teams not starting collective training until September 14 be adhered to by counties, but that they’ll ultimately benefit from the new season’s structure.

Club championships are set to begin from July 31 onwards, with the GAA setting aside 11 weekends before inter-county activity can resume from October 17 at the earliest.

“I do,” he said when asked if he believed it would be respected.

“I’ll be honest, that’s possibly a five-week lead-in time, we have to face reality.

“Fair enough, you mightn’t have your county semi-finalists or finalists. [Ordinarily] after the break in the league, everyone takes a week off and the you’ve five club league games.

“Now, bar your county semi-finalists and finalists, you’ll have a five-week lead-in with them. I think it’s fair.

“To be honest, there’s not a lot to be gained in my opinion by asking players in club championship to come to county training as well.

“If there’s a provision put in for an occasional meet-up, to keep in touch, there’s nothing to stop any of us getting out and about, meeting players and having chats.

“In a strange way, bar your semi-finalists and finalists, you’ll have exclusivity, whereas any other time you’d have club league games until right up to 13 days before championship.”

Echoing calls from other counties, Gallagher believes a way should be found to conclude the National Leagues, but that they might have to be inventive.

The GAA has said that it does want to finish the leagues but hasn’t been able to give a firm commitment that they will do so.

“I think it’s very feasible,” said Gallagher, whose team is in contention for promotion from Division Three.

“I think we have to open our minds to where we’re at. No more than the Premier League, I think there’s an obligation to finish a competition that you start.

“If club championships are finished by October 3, most teams will look for a challenge game – play round six the week after, play championship a week or two weeks after that.

“Most round seven games won’t matter and if needs be, fit them in as teams go out of the championship or next January before the league. To me, it’s straightforward. Teams that are top of the league or bottom, they deserve to go up or down.”

The GAA has been consistent in saying it has no real interest in playing games behind closed doors and president John Horan hinted in recent days that if social distancing measures were relaxed from two metres to just one metre, they could potentially house 42,000 in Croke Park.

He also stated last Friday that they were considering the possibility of satellite venues for matches, which would eliminate much of the home-and-away element of early championship games.

“As much as, on a really selfish level, we wouldn’t like to give up home advantage in Celtic Park, I can see the merits in it,” says Gallagher.

“Say it was Athletic Grounds or Clones or Breffni, and it was set up to make things easiest for players, officials and the crowd, that would make sense. I’d have no issue with that.

“We’re not in a perfect world as we used to know it, so we have to find something so that we can get playing football and people watching it as best as possible.”

Gallagher’s Derry players have been given structured conditioning programmes to follow during the lockdown, guided by the widely respected Ollie Cummings.

The former Donegal and Fermanagh boss has spoken previously of the Oak Leafers’ need to catch up physically on the teams ahead of them, and feels his players have used their time well.

What he feels he, and other county managers, will have learned from lockdown is that entrusting players and giving them the freedom to work remotely more often could make a big difference.

“With so much time to do it, there’s no point putting a gun to players’ heads. The players have enjoyed being able to work from home, even though it’s a bit artificial, and I think there’s learning from that as well.

“I think we spend too much time travelling in GAA, county football especially, to do work whereas getting updates of what the players do at home – and it appears that the majority of clubs in Derry appear to have brilliant setups for gyms – that’s been a big learning for us moving it forward, that boys can do a lot more of the gym work closer to home, that a bit more trust is put in them.

“There’s no point travelling 15, 20 minutes to do it, because that’s 20 minutes back away, when you can do it yourself. And everyone’s schedule is different.

“We have a number of lads at college, they’re only in two or three days a week, so they’ve loads of time to fit it in. That’s what we’re trying to get to, the players take that responsibility.

“It’s a form of leadership and maturity as well, and for us to be maintaining it. I do think there are huge merits in that.

“There is definitely the mental freshness from the ability to do the work on your own and save time, it’s a big learning to come from this I think.”

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GAA Football