League or championship, not both, O’Keeffe warns

League or championship, not both, O’Keeffe warns

The National League or the Championship — that is the choice facing the GAA, according to former fixtures chief Tony O’Keeffe.

As county chairs convene in a teleconference to discuss the impact of the coronavirus crisis on fixtures, the ex-Kerry secretary says only one of the competitions can survive this year.

O’Keeffe, who headed up the GAA’s Games Administration Committee from 2003 to 2006 before later taking over the Central Competitions Control Committee in 2013 for two years, believes a knock-out Championship is the way to go.

“My own fear is either the league or the championship won’t be played,” he said. “Only one of them will be played because you won’t be able in such a short space of time to do both. And you will want a lot of club involvement then because it means a lot to a huge amount of members, and nationally there would be huge engagement.”

Club schedules are already changing, but O’Keeffe knows counties will be loath to cancel their own competitions and he suggests they are “probably” more important than the National League.

“In Kerry, people are very much in favour of the divisional set-up and the fact they have the divisional championships in winter. They usually take about six weeks of games and that’s after the club and county championships.”

Looking at the current situation in China, where the virus originated, O’Keeffe estimates a June or July resumption for GAA activity might be on the cards.

“The situation in China at the moment might suggest this is a three-month problem. If we started addressing it this month, you might think that we might be cleared of it by June. Then it would take at least a month for counties to get ready to play the championship. That’s just one view, not necessarily the facts.”

County chairs will discuss the impact the Covid-19 crisis is having on the fixtures calendar at 12pm on Friday. The idea of knockout formats for both the All-Ireland senior football and hurling championships or abbreviated versions of those formats that currently exist is becoming more of a possibility with each passing day.

The 2020 Allianz Leagues may yet be deemed null and void, although there is some hope that they could be concluded for the sake of the newly-established Tailteann Cup year. However, both the club and county championships will require a lead-in time to prepare.

The Kerry County Board informed clubs on Wednesday that they will provide a preparation period of two to three weeks.

Allianz, which recently signed a new league sponsorship deal with the GAA, last week backed the GAA’s decision to suspend all Gaelic games activity until Sunday week, stating: “As sponsors to the Allianz Leagues and partner of the GAA for over 28 years, we support their decision to suspend all matches until March 29. We will continue to liaise closely with the GAA over the coming weeks prioritising the safety of players, fans, and all those involved.”

However, that cessation period is now expected to extend beyond March 29 and likely after Easter Sunday, which falls on April 12.

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