Limerick chairman John Cregan says the expense involved in mass testing players for Covid-19 is too prohibitive for the GAA to finance alone.
Following up senior hurling manager John Kiely’s assertion in this newpaper last week that it would be safer for the county season to resume ahead of the club due to smaller numbers, Cregan says it’s “a fair point” but highlights several complications.
Premier League chiefs are reportedly spending £4m (€4.4m) on acquiring 26,000 coronavirus testing kits for their 20 clubs. Similar costs would be too much for the GAA to consider when there is no revenue currently being generated and they are seeking financial aid in the Republic and Northern Ireland.
Although there is growing support in government circles to assist sporting organisations return to play and GAA president John Horan has no longer ruled out testing at county level, he remarked last week that the go-ahead for Gaelic games to restart would likely come “beyond the point of testing players before they go out onto the pitch”.
Cregan states: “It’s probably doable from an inter-county point of view but we have been told in no uncertain terms that we are on our own from a financial point of view. You’re looking at a hugely complicated matter where players might have to be kept in isolation before and after games and all of that. It’s certainly not straightforward.
“I think Croke Park have admirably managed to keep staff on the payroll by way of the Government employment scheme but funds are diminishing quickly at county and Croke Park level. It’s probably a tall order to expect counties, let alone clubs, to have the necessary finances to put a testing regime in place.”
It’s on the pitch, not in the stands, where Cregan sees the biggest hurdle for the GAA in returning to action.
“The last thing any of us want to do or be involved in is endangering people’s health. That is the first priority.
“We were put into the roadmap for return in general enough terms. We have a contact sport and until people determine what are the restrictions for a return to play and the GAA sees a way to work within those parameters then you create a roadmap and get back into action. From a spectator point of view, I think it is manageable enough. For instance, if we were to hold our club games in LIT Gaelic Grounds we would be able to print x amount of tickets for different sections of the stadium while adhering to social distancing. But you’re still going to have players, management, and officials to protect and that is going to be very difficult in a contact sport, I believe.
“Then add to that the very legitimate concerns so many players who live or make contact with the elderly family members have about playing and the fear those guys would have about bringing the virus home.
“There are a lot of complications to deal with and some days I would be hugely optimistic as the numbers drop but then if you size that up all we’re doing is controlling it. The fear is that if we get back to some sort of normality this will all start again.
“We have given a lot of thought to revising our championships. We have one scenario where the club championships might have to play in a smaller window if the (inter) county championship is returning. If the championship isn’t returning at national level then we can play the club championships in their original format because we will have whatever the remainder of the year is to play it.”
Clubs might mean smaller attendances but not necessarily smaller problems, Cregan warns. “The issue I would have in the club situation is if certain players who are living with elderly family members say they can’t and won’t play it leaves the club in a very difficult position and it leaves the county board in a very difficult position. Do they start telling clubs they can’t play in the championship because their players say it’s unsafe for them to do so? I don’t think so.”