GAA games chief cautiously optimistic about inter-county action in 2020
THE GAA will have to try to metaphorically 'ride two horses' when it comes to organising cross-border games next month.
Feargal McGill, the Association's Director of Player, Club and Games Administration, rejected the suggestion that Croke Park would give the Irish government's decisions precedence over Stormont if there are differences in policy approach between the two jurisdictions.
Antrim footballers are due to travel to Wicklow for a Division Four encounter on October 17, while Derry will host Longford and Roscommon visit Armagh later that afternoon, in Divisions Three and Two respectively.
However, McGill is confident that an overall approach can be agreed, saying: "It's been the same as it has been all along. We have worked extremely closely with the Ulster Council and with the executive in the North and we have done our best to align as well as we can.
"There are subtle differences in terms of attendances that have appeared but overall we have managed to keep things fairly consistent between the two jurisdictions and that comes from liaising with the various departments of sport, the Ulster Council and ourselves.
"The lads in my department slag me all the time for saying it's a fluid situation but that is the truth of it - it is a fluid situation.
"We have dealt with all those things as they have arisen and we have managed to keep things pretty closely aligned to date and there is no reason as to why we can't keep things pretty aligned as we go through the next couple of months as well."
Although Dublin is currently under stricter Covid-related measures than most other parts of the island, McGill does not foresee the GAA playing All-Ireland semi-finals or finals anywhere other than their traditional home of Croke Park:
"I wouldn't rule anything in or out, but having said that, that would be an absolute last resort. I suppose playing in an All-Ireland semi-final, or winning your provincial championship or whatever, one of the rewards of it is you get to play in Croke Park.
"Whether it's an empty Croke Park or not, there's something magical about playing in Croke Park, we all know that. So I think it would be an absolute last resort.
"The only way you would imagine that happening is if Dublin was in Level 5 lockdown. And I think NPHET (National Public Health Emergency Team) and everyone else would agree that's a hell of a distance off just now. But I think that would be the only circumstances."
The Leitrim man's attitude at present is one of realism but not pessimism when it comes to the chances of inter-county fixtures being called off.
Asked if the All-Ireland semi-finals or finals, scheduled for late November and December, might have to be delayed, he replied: "There is, there is potential. I don't envisage it happening, and I don't mind saying that on the record, I do not envisage that happening.
"To be honest, if we're in a situation where seven, eight, nine players are going to be missing [due to Covid] then we'll be at Level 5 at that stage and we won't be worrying about playing games if something like that happens, I can assure you.
"Going on the evidence of thousands and thousands of club games, I don't envisage that happening but it's built into our plans at the same time, just in case."
The consequence of that, with the hurling final set for December 13 and the football version for Saturday December 19, would be completing the 2020 Championship in 2021.
McGill accepted that could happen, but considers it unlikely: "Yeah, that's possible. I don't think it's probable at all, but it is possible.
"Again, if the country goes to level 5, we'd just have to stop playing games, according to the government roadmap, it's that simple, but I think that's a long, long way off.
"Of course, it's a possibility that we have to pause our competitions, but I don't think it's probable."
McGill sounded an optimistic note, praising the efforts of GAA volunteers since the pandemic reached these shores:
"We can't be complacent and say it won't happen over the next few months. But it would be extremely unfair to the control measures that the GAA have put in place and people who have implemented those control measures, from the questionnaires to having facilities prepared.
"It wouldn't be fair to those people to sensationalise and say that everything is going to go wrong. I think you have to be confident that what we have put in place will deliver for us.
"We can paint all kinds of 'What if?' situations, but let's work our way through it, as we have been doing since the start of March."