GAA Football

No March start date for National Leagues insists Ulster GAA chief Brian McAvoy

Donegal and Tyrone are due to meet in Division One North, when the National Football League gets underway. Pic Philip Walsh.
Andy Watters

ULSTER Council secretary Brian McAvoy has dismissed rumours that the GAA could change tack and begin the National Leagues before end of March.

It has been reported that League action, which had originally scheduled to begin on February 28, would start next month following the restoration of ‘Elite’ status for inter-county GAA.

Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick (chairman of the Louth County Board) told the Irish Daily Mail that he anticipated that: “The League could start by the end of March or the beginning of April.”

But McAvoy does not expect any such U-turn by the GAA. He is confident that the GAA will stick with their stated roadmap meaning there will be no resumption of inter-county activity until after Easter (Easter Sunday is on April 4).

“My understanding is that, following the meeting with the Irish Government, the only restrictions that they are likely to lift on the 3rd of March are on construction and a phased return for schools,” said McAvoy.

“There’ll be no further changes until four weeks after that – that’s why the GAA put out the statement that there would be no training until after Easter because it will be early April before the Irish Government are looking at things again.”

McAvoy added: “Whatever has come out there – it’s not what the Irish Government told the GAA!

“The Irish Government said the only things that would change would be the construction industry and schools and that they wouldn’t be revisiting anything for four weeks. Will the GAA bring the start of the Leagues forward? I don’t think so, even if the Irish Government changed its stance, I would be very surprised if the GAA moved forward from the Easter date.”

There has been speculation that mid-week games could be introduced to the National Leagues if the window for the competition because constrained. The concept could work in Division One North in which Donegal, Tyrone, Armagh and Monaghan are grouped together but, as McAvoy pointed out, it would be unfeasible in other divisions.

“I can’t see it to be honest,” he said.

“You might get an odd derby game being played on a Friday night – that has happened before. You could play some games – Meath and Westmeath could play mid-week – but the other two teams in Division Two North are Mayo and Down and they’re not going to be able to play a mid-week game! So it’s not really a lot of benefit.

“There are some possibilities but I don’t think it would be a feasible. You couldn’t ask players to play three games in eight days.”

Meanwhile, the Ulster GAA Strategic Review which was launched last night and in the document McAvoy sets out the province’s plan for the next three years. He admits that the Covid-19 pandemic “stopped us in our tracks” and noted how Brexit had split Ulster GAA across two political jurisdictions a third of its counties in the EU and the rest now outside it.

McAvoy also cautioned that “sustainability” was now an important consideration in GAA policy.

“The GAA enjoys a popularity amongst our communities that few, if indeed any, other sporting organisation in the world can replicate,” he wrote.

“If anything, Covid-19 has taught us that we took much of what we do and have achieved for granted – it was only when we couldn’t play our games that we appreciated how valuable they were and, indeed, how much we missed them.

“However, our resilience has shone through during the pandemic, but we are now in a different space. We are adapting to a ‘new normal’ and, yes, while we want to expand and flourish, remaining as ambitious as we ever have been, we have to be mindful that we must, first and foremost, protect what we have and ensure the very fundamentals of our wonderful Association – ‘sustainability’ is therefore the over-riding thread that runs through this plan.”

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