Offaly hurling coach and Borrisoleigh manager Johnny Kelly has rejected the argument that returning to action with county games before club carries less risk.
Under the Government roadmap for reopening the country, club activity is slated to return on July 20, whereas it will be October, at the earliest, before there is any return to inter-county fare.
Tipperary secretary Tim Floyd, in these pages last week, remarked that managing the health and safety of 200 inter-county players would be a lot easier than 2,000 adult club players in the county.
Kelly, who has a foot in both camps, says it makes no difference who returns first as neither club nor county players will be asked to step back inside the whitewash until social distancing is at an end and it is 100% safe to engage in contact sports.
“I've heard that mooted, bringing county back first because there are less players involved, but they are all players at the end of the day so I don't see how you can differentiate between club and county. Really and truly, if social distancing is still in place, it doesn't matter if you are playing club or county. It is player welfare at the end of the day that is most important and if there is contact, it doesn't matter if that contact is in Croke Park, McDonagh Park Nenagh, or wherever,” reasoned Kelly.
“As long as we are advised by the HSE to maintain social distancing, I don't see how team sports can take place.”
Kelly, who oversaw Borrisoleigh’s run to last January’s All-Ireland club final, wasn’t the least bit surprised to read that 22% of players polled in the Club Players Association survey said they are unwilling to return to training this year.
“I can absolutely understand the reservations players would have. Player welfare, as I said, is the priority and by extension the welfare of families of players.
“It has to be fully safe to go back, nobody can be forced. It is not all about the adults either. There are thousands of juvenile teams throughout the country who are affected, as well. If adult teams go back, where does that leave the juvenile teams? Do they go back then too?”
The 2009 All-Ireland club winning manager with Portumna has backed the GAA’s decision to keep pitches shut beyond the Government's recommended reopening date of next Monday, but doesn’t foresee the locks staying up until July 20 as Croke Park have instructed.
“I do agree with their decision, but a time will come when we will have to address that, to try and open up our facilities again because the mental wellbeing of people is so important.
“When facilities do open again and games start back, we will be the better for it. I have been involved in coaching and management for a number of years. It is hard work, but there is great satisfaction when you see teams winning and the joy it brings to a community. The GAA really strengthens the bond between people.
“The GAA is an incredible organisation and a huge part of Irish society. It has deep roots in every community. The mental and physical health benefits to the players are well documented, but then you have the social inclusion it offers non-playing members. That can't be overstated. It just brings huge joy to us all and it is only when it is gone do we realise what we are missing. Hopefully, we will all get back sooner rather than later.”
On that front, though, the Offaly coach is not at all confident of a return to action before the year is out.
“I wouldn't be overly optimistic after listening to John Horan on The Sunday Game the other night.”
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