GAA Football

Time for outdoor sport to return - but it may be too late for National Leagues: former Derry ace Paddy Bradley

Loup manager and Derry U20 manager Paddy Bradley says it's time to review the blanket ban on outdoor sport

FORMER Derry star Paddy Bradley has backed growing calls for outdoor sports to resume for not only children but adults – and doubts whether the GAA has enough calendar space to play this year’s National Leagues.

Derry’s U20 football manager also believes a clearer roadmap and specific return dates should be the next stage for the Association to thrash out.

The Glenullin man, however, insisted the most pressing concern for the Association and indeed other sporting bodies is re-starting outdoor sports for children and described the last 12 months as “taking childhoods away from children”.

While acutely aware of the dangers of Covid19, the father-of-four said there was overwhelming evidence to suggest it was safe.

On the front page of Sunday’s Observer newspaper government advisor Professor Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University believed there was no justification for the “ultra-cautious” approach of the UK government in regards to the continued ban on children’s outdoor sports.

“I’m heavily involved in the club at underage level. Before the pandemic, there wasn’t a night that would go by there wasn’t an underage football or camogie match going on at our 4G pitch.

“The kids would train two times per week and at the weekend they’d be playing wee blitzes with three or four local teams. They’ve missed a full year of that. It’s taking a childhood away.

“I think it’s going to have a horrendous impact on the kids, and we’ll not know for a long time how big an impact it’ll have.

“I 100 percent agree with the open letter released by Aidan O’Rourke and a number of high profile sports people recently,” Bradley added.

“I’m a PE teacher and I don’t see the harm in outdoor organised sport for the mental and physical health of children. I’ve four boys of my own. The weather is against them today and they’re all sitting on their tablets and Xboxes. It’s not healthy. Even when the weather is better they'll go outside and they will kick a ball about but it’s not the same as organised sport.

“Interaction with their friends is key.”

The Stormont Executive has yet to produce data-driven evidence to suggest outdoor sport is a driver in the spread of the virus.

In a UTV interview, Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said “organised sport carries with it risk” but gave some optimism of children’s sport returning “very soon”.

“If Michael McBride backs it up with evidence... but there is no evidence to suggest youth sport outdoor is contributing to the virus. Even adult sport. Show me the evidence to suggest GAA is contributing to the spread of the virus.

“Okay, we had situations last year after county final celebrations and people going to bars. That was wrong. But 95 per cent of adult GAA were complying with the rules. It’s been said transmission in schools is minimal so why then is outdoor sport not back?”

Meanwhile, GAA President John Horan acknowledged in an RTE interview at the weekend the importance of restarting juvenile sport, and was also optimistic about all adult competitions going ahead as scheduled in 2021.

However, Bradley, who also manages St Patrick’s Loup, doesn’t share Horan’s confidence.

“They have to allow a four-week grace period for training so you could be looking at May before the National League starts,” said the 2007 football Allstar.

“How does that work? Do they have time to schedule everything in? I don’t think they do if they’re thinking of running the Championship off by the end of July or the middle of August to allow time for clubs.

“The more and more it goes on it’s looking very unlikely there’s going to be any National League. What then? How will the Championship look?

“If we’d a date we would have something to work towards,” he said. “If I knew the U20s were going to be the first week of May it would give the players something to work towards.”

Bradley feels the GAA missed an opportunity in 2020 to experiment with a new Championship format and would prefer to see the provincial Championships separated from the All-Ireland series.

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