GAA Football

GAA 'needs to give clubs some light' amid uncertainty: John McEntee

Clontibret boss John McEntee fears clubs could end up being short-changed if the GAA calendar is further compromised by the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran

CLONTIBRET boss John McEntee has urged the GAA to “give the clubs some light” in the coming months instead of focusing all its efforts on the inter-county scene.

McEntee, an All-Ireland winner with Armagh in 2002, was disappointed by recent comments from Feargal McGill - the GAA’s director of player, club and games administration – about permutations surrounding how 2021 could pan out in the evolving Covid-19 situation.

In an interview with the Irish Times on Tuesday, McGill said radical changes to the fixture calendar “will not be needed” unless current restrictions force a four-week delay to the start of the inter-county season.

The National League is due to start on the last weekend of February, but is expected to be pushed back until the middle or possibly even the end of March.

“We won’t be making a decision or even discussing it until Friday 29th [of January],” said McGill.

“There are 400,000 people who don’t need to hear from us until May - the club players. In that context the 2,000 or so in the inter-county game are the smaller part of the problem. We’re going to have a four to six week lead-in to actual games anyway, so that also buys time.”

McEntee, though, feels the wider engagement of clubs in a social and sporting context should be the Association’s priority.

He said: “In recent years, every GAA president has placed the club at the centre of their pitch when they’re going for the role, and yet when they’re in office their administrators repeatedly pickle those ideas, put them in a bottle, close the lid and put them on the shelf.

“It happened when the Super 8s first came in, they talked about county teams playing in peak season for county teams to display their skills. He [McGill] was one of the administrators who sold that idea.

“Here you have a game where there’s 400,000 people, as he says, who don’t need to hear from the GAA until May. Now, is he going to expend all his energy on appeasing 0.005 per cent of the player base? What about the other 99.995 per cent who are sitting at home, many of whom are without work, deprived of social contact?

“There’s a growing mental health concern out there in the community, and many of these people depend on the GAA for social engagement and even the motivation to exercise. A lot of club players won’t bother getting up to go and train unless the club organises it.

“The GAA is not only something that helps people with their mental health through physical exercise, it’s part of their being, part of their social identity.”

County training was to resume on January 15 but, due to current restrictions, has been put back until the end of the month at least - with McGill saying the GAA could probably hold off on a return until mid-February “before we contemplate cutting competitions or compromising on the time available to clubs”.

Crossmaglen native McEntee fears clubs could end up being short-changed, and insists there should be “fair play for the 398,000 other people out there who play our games”.

“They need to look at it from a club and a county perspective.

“If they need to defer the National League, that’s fine, but they need to come out and say players can start playing with their club in April, get a few league games in and some arrangement can be reached over whether county players are involved in that or they’re not.

“If they don’t want county players involved in the League, that’s fine, but give the clubs some light - give them some confidence that there’s going to be some football.

“It’s not about the three weeks or the five weeks of the [club] championship season, it’s about having football, having engagement, having social interaction and building community spirit back up again.

“There’s more than just the county footballer out there.”

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