John Kiely: It would be a huge loss to society as a whole were we not to have a Championship this year

John Kiely: It would be a huge loss to society as a whole were we not to have a Championship this year
Munster GAA Senior Hurling Championship Final, LIT Gaelic Grounds, Limerick 30/6/2019 Tipperary vs Limerick Limerick's Aaron Gillane celebrates with fans (©INPHO/James Crombie)

I think the inter-county scene can lead the way in finding a return to play. From the outset, I felt that inter-county had a better chance of returning to play first. That was always my gut instinct. Not out of selfishness that we wanted to get back first but that our numbers are much, much smaller than the club scene, a fraction of it. And we do have our own medical teams in place on a consistent basis.

We’re used to a testing regime with the Irish Sports Council who come in and test our players on a regular basis. We’re used to medical protocols in regards to medication even in terms of what drugs are permissible to use and what are not. They’re used to having regimental protocols around them that they operate within.

I just felt that gave the inter-county scene a better opportunity to cope with the demands with what will come in terms of a return to play protocol. But I am in no rush with it whatsoever. None of us are.

We have discussed it as a group and we have given the players a very firm commitment that under no circumstances that we would return to any form of training unless we felt it was absolutely safe to do so and adequate training put in place for management, coaches, backroom team and players in terms of what protocols would need to be put in place in a training and a match-day setting. We would have to do dry runs with that too and start with smaller numbers and build it up.

We feel it is definitely something we will end up doing at some point. When that is, I don’t know but as I said I’m not bothered about when it happens. I just think it would be a huge loss to society and Ireland as a whole were we not to have a Championship this year. We have come through so many different historical events as an organisation, as a country and we have always managed to get it done.

At the same time, we have been managing to get a lot done with the virus over the last nine weeks, bringing it to a very low level. I think we have done a phenomenal job. It has been in so many sectors.

Obviously, the medical sector has made an incredible contribution in tending to people who are sick, the tens of thousands. I read that over 18,500 people had successfully come through the virus and are completely clean of the virus now and that’s a phenomenal achievement. For a country that had its challenges before this virus, I think we have coped with it very admirably.

Obviously, it’s going to leave a huge scar and we probably haven’t seen the half of that because it’s still such an early time in those whole saga. But along the way we’re going to need some uplift. It’s just like the lads doing the Leaving Cert: it just came to a point when it just wasn’t tenable to continue on the road we were on and we had to change path.

The education sector is like any every other sector. The amount of change that students, parents and teachers have had to endure over the last nine weeks has been incredible. There was more change during that time than in the previous three or four years.

It’s been extraordinary and not all of it will be a loss on our organisations: it will be a huge addition going forward in the skillset we will have and we will be able to do things slightly different when we do get back to what we consider normal territory.

From the GAA perspective, the inter-county scene can lead the organisation in a positive way. We can give hope to the rest of the organisation, to the other 900,000 that participate in it on a regular basis. Our elderly have suffered a lot throughout the course of this and will continue to do so throughout the cocooning period and as we wait for a vaccine. They rely on our games massively and for them to be able to tune in and watch a match at home.

If. as GAA president John Horan said. we only have 20% or 30% of our stadiums’ capacity later this year I think the elderly would be more than happy to see the Championship run off in that regard. As an organisation, sometimes you have to live within your means and if it’s the case that we have to have small crowds so be it. When we rebuilt Croke Park we had to survive with a smaller capacity and we got on with it, we understood.

There wasn’t a stand and you couldn’t leave anyone in there. It’s great that we have so many people who would love to go to our games. Maybe it’s just this year they will have to be careful, particularly the elderly and those with any health issues to stay away from our games and watch them.

We could all do with the lift later in the year and I hope that will come to pass but number one I hope it we can put a very strong public health regime in place for our players, management, coaches and backroom team and those who can come to the games and those who work it like the media, TV people, all the officials and stewards. Nobody is more important or less important than anybody else; they have to be protected and looked after.

But we’re going to have to live with this virus and that’s becoming very apparent to me as a school principal. We are going to have to open our school. We cannot continue as we are. We have put a stopgap in place over the last eight or nine weeks but it’s not a solution, it’s not a permanent fix.

We’re not going to online distance learning as an option in the future - nobody wants that. We want to be in our classrooms, we want to maintain those personal relationships with our teachers and we want our schools opened.

People need to go back to work and if the schools aren’t opened they can’t because they’re at home. The economy is going to be needed for all of society in order to pay for all the medical assistance that will be required and pay for all the financial supports that our social welfare system is going to have. There is going to be a huge demand in our society to get back to some degree of continuity.

We have to follow the plan, which is in place. I think it is very prudent, very well thought-out. It is conservative, yes, but I’d prefer a bit of conservatism and getting it right than doing something wild and making a mistake.

We’re going in the right direction, it’s steady and it’s well led. Dr Tony Holohan and the various medical people around him and the Government are doing a fine job. Like all of us, mistakes have been made but everybody is trying to do the right thing and that’s where we are at in the GAA as well.

We’re trying to get it right as it possibly can and as our organisation we have led very well from the outset. Our clubs have led well in terms of helping our local communities and the elderly and we have led well in terms of helping charitable organisations as well. There are so many good things that the GAA has been a part of during what has happened and society in general has been doing that too.

It’s gas that Matt Damon came to Ireland to do a new movie and ends up in quarantine for nine weeks and will be here for another while. But it’s lovely to see somebody from the outside’s reaction to what has happened here and his comments about how we’ve coped and managed the virus, he’s comparing to his own country where almost 100,000 have died.

I think we have done very well, we’re on the right track and we just need to keep it steady and don’t panic. The world now compared to the world 10 weeks ago has completely changed and where will we be in another 10 weeks? Ten weeks is a short period of time really, it’s nothing.

When we get back training in late July or August let’s see where the virus is then, how society is coping and how we have adjusted. We’re adjusting very quickly to this situation and we will have adjusted further in another 10 weeks. Things we might think impossible to do today could be very possible in 10 weeks’ time.

Limerick senior hurling manager and Abbey School, Tipperary town principal John Kiely was speaking to John Fogarty.

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