In accordance with the Government’s announcement to ban all outdoor gatherings up to a maximum of 500 people, the GAA have postponed all games until after March 29, which was the intended date for the conclusion of the Allianz Leagues, with the Division 1 and 2 football finals.
But what happens if the Government’s recommendation extends beyond that date, into the designated club month of April and beyond?
We assess the current and potential situations facing the GAA.
No All-Ireland inter-county and club championships.
The doomsday scenario for the GAA in 2020 is not just from the obvious promotion perspective, but the monumental impact the loss of the Championship would have on their accounts.
Gate receipts reached almost €74m last year, almost 50% of Central Council’s total income.
The 44 Allianz League games and All-Ireland U20 football semi-finals and finals that have yet to be played provide sizeable income, but they don’t mean nearly enough to the coffers as the Championship.
If playing games behind closed doors was quickly ruled out for those outstanding league games, you can be certain that matches being played out in front of empty stands won’t be countenanced for the All-Ireland senior football and hurling competitions. In that case, there may as well be no championship.
An abandoned championship is a situation the GAA will be praying doesn’t happen, not just because of gate receipts, but commercial agreements, too, and the amount spent already by counties this year in preparing their senior panels for the championship.
All in all, an eventuality that doesn’t bear thinking about.
Play remaining Allianz League games later in the year; change the championship structure.
Croke Park would be loath to rearrange divisional finals for the autumn, particularly as it could impact on club competitions.
Also, there will be a press to finish football’s Division 2 and 3 final round stages, so as to ascertain how the championship is going to be split between the Sam Maguire and Tailteann Cups, following the provincial finals.
But might the Tailteann Cup be put back for a year, if the leagues can’t be played off in time, before the championship? From a linear perspective, it would make sense to finish the league, where 36 football games and eight hurling games are outstanding.
However, when push comes to shove, the league will fall to the championship and, similar to the Six Nations rescheduling, the secondary competition could be concluded later in the year.
That’s not to say the championship won’t also have to get in line.
If this suspension of activity lasts months and not weeks, the GAA may have to abandon its provincial round-robin series in the Liam MacCarthy Cup and group formats at lower levels, as well as the backdoor and the Super 8s in football, in favour of a straight knock-out format, for the first time in football since 2001 and in hurling since 1997.
Draws would have to be made in hurling.
For example, even if it were agreed Cork-Limerick and Waterford-Tipperary were the opening games of the Munster SHC, as they are scheduled to be on May 10, which clash would be the first round to win through to face Clare would have to be decided, as well as venues.
(Limerick mightn’t take kindly to a one-off game in Cork; Walsh Park wouldn’t be big enough for a knock-out game.)
In football, the Leinster and Munster champions are on the same side of the draw this season: should Dublin and Kerry win their respective provinces, does that mean they face off in an All-Ireland semi-final?
Fewer games would have to be organised by the GAA and replays across the board might have to be jettisoned.
Regardless, the dent to revenue would be significant.
Remaining Allianz League games postponed until April, Championship goes ahead as per schedule, or with a later start.
Right now, this is the best-case scenario for the GAA, although April, as a club month, will be upset and it could have ramifications further down the line, in terms of counties finishing their championships in time for the provincial competitions in autumn and the All-Ireland semi-finals, which, for the first time, take place in December this year.
Bearing that in mind, the Central Competitions Control Committee could choose to delay the start of the provincial championships and either squeeze the All-Ireland schedule by two weeks, so that they conclude, as per schedule, on August 16, with the All-Ireland hurling final, and August 30 with the football decider.
Failing that, the later start to the championships could be reflected by the championships concluding two weeks later than expected, on August 30 (hurling) and September 13 (football), with a release valve provided by pushing back the All-Ireland club semi-finals to January.