GAA Football

I had no qualms about handing Caolan Mooney Rostrevor return insists boss Pete McGrath

Before last Friday night, Caolan Mooney hadn't played a competitive game of football since a Dr McKenna Cup game at the end of December. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran

EXPERIENCED Rostrevor manager Pete McGrath insists he had no qualms about handing Caolan Mooney his first taste of competitive action since suffering a fractured skull last December.

Mooney and his brother Patrick were injured in an altercation in Newry in the early hours of December 30. The previous day the 27-year-old had featured in Down’s Dr McKenna Cup win over Fermanagh, and it was a long road to recovery before he returned to action last Friday night.

Mooney played the whole of Rostrevor’s draw with Mayobridge as football returned across the north, scoring two second half points, and McGrath insists the former Aussie Rules player had proved he was ready to come back into the fray.

“He has been given the all clear,” said the two-time All-Ireland winner.

“Obviously he wouldn’t be playing if he hadn’t been given the full approval of the medical people. His father [Ciaran] is one of our selectors, and Caolan came back about three weeks ago, just when we started our collective sessions.

“He’s done full training with us, hasn’t missed anything, played half of a friendly match against An Riocht last Monday night and then the full game against Mayobridge on Friday.

“That is classified as an official challenge match because both teams had a bye as a result of uneven numbers in the league section, but it was a very competitive, robust game, just like a normal league match.

“Caolan played the full match and he showed no sign of being conscious of what had happened - only the player himself knows what he brings into a match psychologically but in the contact training we’ve done and in the two matches he has played in, he has shown no inhibitions at all.

“He’s just playing as he did prior to the incident that occurred. As far as I’m concerned he’s back, and he’s just like every other player.”

Mooney will continue his return against Clonduff tomorrow night and, as things stand, spectators will still not be allowed to attend. However, with the Stormont executive expected to review the matter today, there remains a possibility that could change ahead of the weekend.

McGrath has seen plenty during a managerial career that is now in its fifth decade, and admits the current situation is “highly unusual”.

Last week 10 clubs in Derry suspended GAA activity due to the discovery of Covid-19 cases in the community, while Tyrone clubs Eglish and Aghaloo have taken similar action after an Eglish player tested positive in the days after their meeting last Sunday.

Despite being involved with his home club, McGrath admits he still has concerns about “the bigger picture” – and feels GAA players are “a wee bit vulnerable at the moment”.

“I would still be concerned for what’s happening in the wider community generally in terms of Covid-19. You’re going into shopping centres and there’s social distancing and sanitisation, and restrictions on outdoor gatherings, and yet you have a situation on a football field where you have 30 people kicking a football, colliding with each other, tackling, sweating…

“There are still issues there with player welfare. To me, there would appear to be certain contradictions and ambiguities.

“I know there’s risk in everything you do, but I feel Gaelic footballers are a wee bit vulnerable at the moment. We’re in a situation where you’re not just totally comfortable with what you’re involved in, but you hope and pray everything will be okay.

“What I can’t reconcile at the moment, county football is due to start in mid-October, three or four thousand people maybe at a match? I have grave doubts about it, unless the thing really recedes, which it doesn’t show any sign of doing.”

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GAA Football