Hurling and camogie

Covid19 calls and redundancies have been toughest part of job: Antrim chairman Ciaran McCavana

Antrim county chairman Ciaran McCavana hopes the GAA can emerge stronger than ever before next year

TWO of the hardest things the Antrim chairman Ciaran McCavana has had to deal during this global pandemic have been telling people their jobs no longer exist and trying to provide leadership and guidance to clubs dealing with speculated Covid19 cases.

When he assumed the post in 2018, taking over from Collie Donnelly of St John’s, the Naomh Éanna clubman never imagined he would be thrust into such a stressful scenario.

But, as the county’s football and hurling championships reach an enthralling climax over consecutive Sundays, McCavana still sees light at the end of the tunnel for the GAA despite a spike in Covid infections.

Things haven’t been perfect, he acknowledges, but when were they ever going to be in a pandemic.

While dual club O’Donovan Rossa – one of the many success stories of the 2020 season - bemoaned the tight time-frame of games in both codes, finishing the club championships will be arguably Antrim’s greatest triumph.

“I suppose people only see a duck above water, the calmness, but you are paddling every day,” said McCavana, who is a self-employed chartered accountant.

“You’re dealing with a Covid issue or a Covid scare every day.

“Last week, I got a call from a club to say that they had a guy with a high temperature; they weren’t sure if he had Covid but they were asking: ‘What do we do?’

“So, you have to think on your feet. I’m not an expert, I’m not a doctor. We’ve a key worker on the county board, we discussed it and we went back and said: ‘Our advice to you is, you’d be better to isolate that young lad until they determine what’s wrong with him, and the game proceeds,’ because if you stop every game for every high temperature we’d have no fixtures.

“But the hardest aspect has been having to make some redundancies,” the chairman added. “That’s very difficult because you’re dealing with people’s livelihoods. And reducing people’s wages as well. That’s not a nice thing to have to do.”

The Antrim SFC has enjoyed another intriguing series of matches while the SHC has been one of the most entertaining in living memory, largely thanks to the performances of Belfast clubs Rossa and St John’s who went down in two memorable semi-finals in Dunsilly last weekend.

As a result of an epic hurling championship, TG4 will screen this Sunday’s decider between champions Dunloy and Loughgiel Shamrocks ‘live’ from Ballycastle.

With inter-county teams allowed to resume collective training on September 14 ahead of the National Leagues in mid-October, McCavana insists it wasn’t feasible to extend the club series - which would have helped duals clubs such as Rossa and St John's.

“People have asked me: ‘Why not play up to October?’ Well, here’s our logic – and there are two rationales behind it: Yes, we want our county teams to do well. Both the footballers and the hurlers are on the cusp of promotion. The hurlers are playing one of their biggest games in years [against Kerry Division Two promotion play-off final] and the footballers have games that are the biggest in five or six years to get promoted.

“Domhnall Nugent [of St John’s] suffered a bad elbow injury and it could be several weeks for him to recover and be ready for the county hurlers and no doubt you’ll have other injuries.

“Darren Gleeson [senior hurling manager] will get his captain Conor McCann a week or two before the Kerry game because he’s in the football final with Creggan.

“You also have to allow for one county final replay, which would be the following week, so that’s another week.

“Then, you take into account of Covid. If a county finalist gets hit with Covid you would have to give that club time. Before you know it your four weeks are away. People think you can just move fixtures around but there’s a domino effect to other fixtures. We’ve also ran out of natural light and if you ask a club for their pitch all the other codes in that club have to close down to facilitate that game.

“Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t get everything perfect and some of the stuff that was said, we will look at it next year but we can’t make days.”

The chairman added: “But I think the clubs and the county board have pulled together. When we weren’t playing, the GAA stepped up to the plate delivering parcels and prescriptions, but whenever we went into our games and put our fixtures out we all knew we were having to play with the hand we were dealt because of Covid.”

With Ireland on the cusp of a second wave of Covid, McCavana maintains the inter-county season can still survive the minefield of problems that lie ahead – and feels it’s vitally important the games do go ahead, even if it means the Association taking a massive financial hit.

“We have to give people a bit of hope. In the dark nights, the games are going to be in front of limited crowds, but I think we’ll take every chink of light going. There’ll be talking points, debates, arguments, fall-outs, friendships made – and I actually think the country needs it.

“And people talk about Croke Park being all about money; well, here’s a prime example where it’s going to cost Croke Park a serious amount of money to stage the games.”

The Saffron chief applied the same logic to the county’s leagues which are expected to be played out October and November albeit with no promotion or relegation. We can’t stay under our beds - we need to give a bit of brightness in the dark months of winter.

 

“This is about the enjoyment of playing football and hurling, keeping people active. So there should be no pressure this year with no relegation, and if you get into the semi-final you might just take it a bit more serious and try and win the thing because when the plaque goes up on your club wall it will say champions for 2020.

"Hopefully we’ll beat Covid out the door next year and we'll all come back stronger again."

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Hurling and camogie