GAA Football

Isolating players in a Covid-19 'bubble' won't work in amateur GAA

Because of Covid-19 concerns, Fermanagh manager Ryan McMenamin was without some players for Sunday's trip to Ennis. Pic Philip Walsh.
Andy Watters

ISOLATING a county team in a hotel ‘bubble’ is a non-starter in the GAA, even before the All-Ireland semi-finals or final.

GAA Director Communications Alan Milton said that it would be impossible to confine amateur players to a ‘bubble’ to isolate them from Covid-19 infection since that would mean players taking time off work without being compensated for doing so.

Players are compensated for mileage expenses but Milton said that compensating amateur players for loss of earning would be “against the grain and the ethos of amateur sport” and so the concept, which has allowed professional sports like soccer, rugby and cricket to stay afloat, cannot be introduced to Gaelic Games, even at ‘elite’ level.

“We don’t play games during the week or on Friday nights (expect at provincial level) for the simple reason that these are amateur players and they’d have to take time off work,” said Milton.

“So I can’t see how that (a hotel bubble) would work personally. It is not something that has been discussed or accurately considered at this moment in time. It goes against the grain and the ethos of amateur sport because we don’t compensate players for that so I don’t think we can ask them to do it and if we did compensate them we wouldn’t be amateur.”

Protocols were strictly observed at all games but Covid-19 issues did threaten to take centre stage last weekend. Leitrim did not field against Down in the National Football League while Cavan travelled to Kildare without several players and Fermanagh’s game in Ennis was in doubt until Friday.

Some health professionals believe that having independent testing for the entire squad is the only way for accurate results to be compiled but that would only work if the players were kept cocooned in a strict ‘bubble’.

“Our Covid advisory committee have looked at all these things and the problem with the testing is that you can got one done on Monday and you mightn’t be back training until Wednesday,” he said.

“It won’t be 100 per cent accurate because of the timelines. Our players are not in a bubble like professional athletes, so it’s not a runner for that reason.

“If they were living in a hotel for 14 days, of course you could do it because you could monitor them but they aren’t so it’s just not feasible.”

Regular independent testing would rule out the chances of what former Tyrone All-Ireland-winner suggested last week. Cavanagh said players might attempt to conceal symptoms or contacts if they feared that declaring them would rule them out of an important game.

"Players will almost and will be encouraged to hide potential symptoms of sickness and illness, which is kind of a scary thing," said RTE pundit Cavanagh.

"If I was a county player going into the game and I started to have symptoms and it could be Covid-related, I know in my head, because I was one of these guys that just always wanted to get on with it and never wanted to diminish my chances or the team's chances, I would be feeling: 'Right, I have to conceal this'."

Milton argued that there was “no evidence of that” and said that suggesting it could happen was “an insult” to inter-county players.

“I don’t think any of our players would jeopardise their team-mates for a start,” he said.

“How could you go back into a dressingroom if you had spread the virus and maybe they might have someone vulnerable at home? No-one is putting any pressure on anyone to play. If they’re not comfortable or not right, they shouldn’t be there.”

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