GAA Football

Ulster GAA chief Brian McAvoy admits club activity could resume in north first

Ulster GAA chief Brian McAvoy has admitted there could be 'a bit of divergence' in terms of the resumption of club activity between the north and south of the country
Neil Loughran

ULSTER GAA chief Brian McAvoy has admitted there could be “a bit of divergence” in terms of the resumption of club activity across Ireland, after Oisin McConville issued an impassioned plea for Gaelic Games to resume in the north as soon as the Stormont executive allows it.

In the five-phase roadmap unveiled by the executive on Tuesday, outdoor sports training is included in the ‘Cautious First Stage’. No dates are attached to the data-driven plan but there is cautious optimism that GAA clubs in the north would be permitted to restart activity, should it be approved following a review on March 16.

Case numbers and deaths are considerably lower than the rest of Ireland and with vaccinations progressing more quickly, the two jurisdictions find themselves at different levels.

The GAA’s unified, all-island approach could therefore require some flexibility, with former Armagh and Crossmaglen forward McConville insisting that “25 per cent of the Association” shouldn’t be punished “because we don’t have our ducks in a row elsewhere”.

"If we have the opportunity in the north to go back on the pitch,” he said in a BBC radio interview yesterday, “that's exactly what we should do”.

Ulster GAA chief executive McAvoy expects the GAA will continue to adopt “a consistent approach” but suggested club activity could resume in the north first, depending on how the coming weeks unfold.

“I don’t think you can judge too far ahead,” said the Burren man.

“I expect we will be fairly consistent with regard to getting kids back and inter-county. As [new GAA president] Larry McCarthy said at the weekend, when we can get the kids back and it’s safe to do so, we’ll do so at the earliest opportunity.

“I anticipate that once the schools are back that there is a justifiable case for having the kids back. I would be hopeful that would be fairly consistent across the island, give or take a week or so.

“In relation to inter-county, the north is ahead at the minute but the GAA policy remains that there is no inter-county training. Down paid the price for it, Cork paid the price for it.

“Club will be that wee bit later maybe so there could be a wee bit of divergence there potentially. Adult club seems to be level three in the south where potentially it could come at level two or two-and-a-half in the north, so there could be a slight difference. If that was the case I presume we could argue the case around training at least.

“But I do feel that in terms of competitive start dates, it will be fairly consistent.”

McConville has previously been vocal in his criticism of the manner in which the GAA lost its elite status, and feels there is an onus on the Association to return – at all levels – as soon as possible.

"When the GAA was approached about losing their elite status… stand up and fight for your elite status. Over the last number of months, we've been crying out for [former president] John Horan or somebody within the GAA to just say 'listen lads….we need to get people back on the pitch particularly young kids'.

"It took Larry McCarthy to come in. He obviously has a massive feel for what's going on as far as the membership is concerned.

“The split season is not the most important thing here. Two people going up to lift the cup is not high on the agenda right now so let's deal with what's straight in front of us and staring up in the face.

"People are suffering because they don't have the outlets they once had. We are told by scientists that it is safe to go back on the pitch so therefore we should be back on the pitch."

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