Hurling and camogie

Lockdown threats rock DJ Carey who urges all Gaels to do their bit to keep Covid-19 threat at bay

Kilkenny senior hurling selector DJ Carey pictured at the EirGrid Official Timing Sponsorship launch. EirGrid runs Ireland’s electricity grid and has been a proud partner of the GAA since 2015. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Andy Watters

HE'S a hurling immortal, but DJ Carey is as susceptible as the rest of us when it comes to the health risks posed by Covid-19.

And, also like the rest of us, the Kilkenny legend breathed a sigh of relief when the Irish government confirmed on Monday that the country would not go into a Level 5 lockdown.

A ban on sporting events would have been the kiss of death for the hurling and football championships but Taoiseach Micheal Martin's announcement meant that the 2020 competitions are, for now at least, still on.

Now Carey urges every Gael to play their role in ensuring that the All-Ireland Championships stay a step ahead of the ever-present Covid threat. The five-time All-Ireland winner and nine-time Allstar is a selector in Brian Cody's Kilkenny management team. He was on the sideline last Sunday when the Cats played a challenge game in the build-up to their Leinster SHC opener against the winners of the Dublin/Laois quarter-final on October 31.

He wasn't long off the pitch when he heard rumours that it might be Kilkenny's last game of the year and the news that the rug could be pulled from under the GAA's feet was a shock. Now he says the GAA has to heed the warning if the postponed and protracted inter-county season is to go ahead.

"You are coming from preparing for a Leinster Championship to all of a sudden the whole thing being lockdown again," said Carey.

"I'm not sure where everyone is at in terms of inter-county, but certainly with all the guidelines that are out there, we are trying to do everything that is humanly possible to keep it right.

"We have marquees put up and the players are coming togged out, they are ready to go at training. We are wearing our masks. They can't have showers afterwards. So we are doing everything possible to make sure, and I'm sure most other teams if not all of them, are the same.

"Even Sunday after the match, our lads togged out, we went into the stand, left our gear in the stand.

"We went down warmed up on an absolutely miserable wet day, guys come off, they put their gear into a bin, put on fresh gear, and go home without a shower or anything. "Then you are hearing this news that we could go to Level 5... At the end of the day, we all have to be realistic and, what is best for the country, what is best for health, what is best for everything, we have to do.

"On the other side of that, from a sporting point of view, from everything, I'm certainly, and we are certainly hoping that something will get going this year."

Carey explained the measures that the Kilkenny squad are taking: players and management are told not to attending train if they have any signs of ill-health ("even a sniffle") and so far two players have stayed at home but were passed fit to train the following night.

Of course, the Armagh footballers also had extensive protocols in place but an outbreak in the squad meant they've had to suspend collective training so nothing is certain but Carey remains "hopeful" that the Championships will take place.

"You're nearly going to bed at night-time with news on, you are getting up in the morning with news on to see what's the latest today," he said.

"We're trying to plead with people, we're asked to do things, and maybe it doesn't suit you to do them and maybe you're saying ‘this is bull, we shouldn't be doing it'.

"But we're asked to do things, so the simple thing is to do what we're asked to do. It's not overly difficult, I think. It's wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands. There are small things that we can do.

"Obviously there are things that could come into play that you are accidentally involved in something, that's a different thing.

"But if we can do the simple things. Like, do we need to celebrate? Do we need to go on the field when you know you're not supposed to. That's what all sporting bodies are doing.

"As part of the Kilkenny management I've gone to matches where maybe I was the only one at the match, or very few of our selectors or the odd person let in.

"You'd be there obviously because you are part of the Kilkenny County Board to look at players playing."

The GAA has been lambasted in some quarters over scenes of mass celebrations - on and off pitches - following county finals and over a lack of social distancing in stands looking over-populated. Carey says that health ministers were within their rights to call for action when their guidance was being ignored.

"There are people outside the ground begging to get in, looking to get in, and some games I've seen on television where crowds have been big," he said.

"You can't blame guys for letting them in because they're local, they know people.

"That's one thing, whatever about the social distancing, but then if you are down on the field and celebrating with players and inter-mingling, you can't blame a sporting organisation, or you can't blame a government saying: ‘Hold on a minute, you were asked to do something, you can't abide by it, people are pleading to get in but when they get in the right thing is not done'.

"That's why I suppose the GAA have come out and made this decision with the club situation, because I would imagine they are looking at it saying: 'We want to have an inter-county season and we won't have one if this thing keeps going as it is'."

Ballyhale Shamrocks completed a three in-a-row in this year's Kilkenny senior hurling championship but won't get a chance to make it three in-a-row at provincial and national level since there won't be an All-Ireland Club championship this year.

As a selector, Carey has enjoyed the opportunity to watch established and aspiring county players battle it out during the club season but he isn't sure how a club/county split would work in the future.

"Are we looking at an inter-county season finishing in July and a club season starting or is it vice-versa?" he asked.

"Will then there is a whole summer where we, as supporters, are not seeing inter-county hurling or football and, if it's the other way around, there's a whole summer where club players are not playing? So I'm not sure exactly how it works.

"Maybe if we were able to give three or four weeks to inter-county hurling and football and three or four weeks to club and be able to do it that way. I'd like to see it co-ordinated like that so there is certain time given and then you come back to it. I haven't thought about it overly but I just think that it's a difficult one and almost everyone who supports Gaelic Games supports club and county.

"If we're going to look at a situation where the county scene is gone from July that, to me, is when the best of our games are and when the vast majority will look in at it. I'm not sure how many people from Galway, for example, will look at club games in Wexford or Kilkenny or wherever but they certainly will be looking forward to inter-county action so if inter-county is gone over the summer we're going to lose a huge amount of very good sport, very good hurling, very good football.

"So I'd like to know what the plan is. How do you co-ordinate it?"

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Hurling and camogie