John Fogarty: GAA not turning its back on closed doors Championship

Almost 15 years to the day it chose to open up Croke Park, the GAA will take another landmark decision this Friday prompted by the worldwide pandemic.
John Fogarty: GAA not turning its back on closed doors Championship

GAA president John Horan, left, with director general Tom Ryan at last February’s Annual Congress. Usually only Congress or Special Congress can dictate the structure of the senior football and hurling competitions, however a motion to empower Coiste Bainistí to change the Championship is expected to be passed at Friday’s Special Congress. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
GAA president John Horan, left, with director general Tom Ryan at last February’s Annual Congress. Usually only Congress or Special Congress can dictate the structure of the senior football and hurling competitions, however a motion to empower Coiste Bainistí to change the Championship is expected to be passed at Friday’s Special Congress. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Almost 15 years to the day it chose to open up Croke Park, the GAA will take another landmark decision this Friday prompted by the worldwide pandemic.

A Special Congress is to be convened remotely with the various counties and other units represented by small delegations as well as the former GAA presidents, Central Council and Coiste Bainisti (management committee).

The motion to empower Coiste Bainistí to change the Championship is expected to sail through. As things stand, only Congress or Special Congress can dictate the structure of the senior football and hurling competitions.

After that, don’t expect to hear much if anything from the GAA then until after May 5 as they wait to hear the Government’s next steps. Management committee will take counsel from the Central Competitions Control Committee, who have been plotting a series of scenarios, the most prominent of which consider action restarts at the start of June (optimistic), July (likelier) and August (possible).

As the Irish Examiner reported last week, a period of club activity is now the preferred option to recommence games activity. A four-week window has been sketched but there is a suggestion that could extend to eight with club championships completed in that time. As neat as that is, it’s an ambitious idea.

The idea of clubs before counties recommencing the GAA season is a sound one, although there is bound to be severe restrictions on attendances particularly if there is a return to the limit of 1,000 people.

Providing there isn’t a second wave of Covid-19 and restrictions continue to be eased, it would also put more time between the lifting of the restrictions and the inter-county championships thereby giving the GAA an opportunity to permit more people to attend games. However, there is an acceptance among high-ranking officials within the Association that mass gatherings will be curbed for several months to come, especially as 2020 moves closer to the flu months of late autumn and early winter.

Games being played behind closed doors is a no-no for some GAA officials who would rather postpone the Championship until next year or write it off completely than arrange them for what they consider to be the sake of doing so.

But others are keeping an open mind for social and financial reasons.

Speaking last month, GAA director general Tom Ryan admitted staging remaining Allianz League games in empty venues had been considered before it was rejected.

“When we talked ourselves about playing games behind closed doors, playing 15 or 16 games out of 22 and then looking at the following weekend, that looks very much like for the fixture programme and I think that would have been very much out of touch with what the country needs to do at the moment.

“It wouldn’t look right or feel right to have the GAA playing, albeit behind closed doors, a full fixtures programme. So we decided very quickly that that was something we didn’t want to do.”

At the outset of the virus outbreak in this country, it was pertinent that the GAA led the way, as they have continued to do, by making their stadiums available as testing centres to the wage cuts that central staff had taken.

Staging the Championship would as much be a beacon that normality has returned. Even if it were to be played without spectators, the worth of social capital would be priceless so long as the games can be watched, listened to or followed remotely by people.

The eerieness and sound of players barking at one another and managers cajoling their men, people deprived of Gaelic Games could get over. A game of hurling feeds the atmosphere as the atmosphere feeds it but when the alternative might be no game at all it’s a compromise many would be happy to make.

Even without crowds, the logistics would be considerable. For as many games to be shown, centralised venues would have to be nominated for double or triple headers to suit RTÉ and Sky Sports and Friday night fixtures may also have to be considered.

Dressing rooms being occupied twice in one day would likely have to be sanitised before the second team arrives.

Medical support would also have to be considerable.

Seeing as media rights may turn out to be a stronger source of revenue in 2020 than previous years, aiding the TV companies would make sense although they too will be feeling the economic impact of the lockdown.

More games for the same price could be something that works for both parties.

The start date for the Championship in Ireland on May 10, the formats as we know them and the London and New York Connacht SFC games are all off the table but pretty much everything else remains.

In the midst of a national shutdown, the only thing open for the GAA are their options and those include a closed door.

Football league may return on Bloody Sunday

It was football that was played on Bloody Sunday 100 years ago and there are discussions about some of the outstanding games in this year’s Allianz Football League taking place on the centennial of that epochal day on November 20.

While there is little or no hope of hurling’s Division 1 knock-out games being played (the aim is to stage the remaining three promotion finals from 2A down), the Central Competitions Control Committee still seek to confirm nine of the 10 promotion and relegation spots that haven’t been filled. So far, Meath are the only team who have been relegated although Louth are all but gone from Division 3.

A total of 32 round games in the football league have yet to be played but the GAA wouldn’t envisage all of them needing to take place, only those that are of consequence in confirming the divisional line-ups for 2021.

That is good news for Cork who are a whisker away from being promoted to Division 2 and were due to face Louth in Round 6 next. However, they would likely have to tog out again as their final round opponents Longford are also in a chase for promotion.

In Division 1, a defeat for Mayo against Galway combined with at least a point for Monaghan at home to Kerry would be enough to demote Mayo.

However, Division 2 is so tight that it’s possible all outstanding eight games would have to be played.

That Tipperary still have skin in the game, yet to face Offaly and Leitrim who like them are hoping to avoid dropping to Division 4 next season, could prove to be an even more appropriate way to mark the centenary anniversary, even more than replicating a challenge game against Dublin.

Comfort in Olaf’s words of wisdom

Anyone juggling the art of childminding with the day job right now would be as thankful for small mercies as distractions.

We’ve found that Frozen’s Olaf has an outstanding ability to keep twin toddlers quiet. For the relieved parent, he’s not short of some sagely advice either or a poignant reminder of what we’re missing right now:

“Hi, I’m Olaf and I like warm hugs” — Don’t we all, but for obvious reasons outside the household we can’t.

“Oh, my theory about advancing technology is it’s both our saviour and our doom?” — Spend some time on Zoom, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, and what not and you will think the former; spend a little time on social media right now and you will agree it’s the latter.

“Did you know men are six times more likely to be struck by lightning?” — Didn’t need to know that.

“Did you know wombats poop squares?” — That I needed to know.

“Let me ask you, how do you guys cope with the ever-increasing complexity of thought that comes with maturity?” — There’s your problem right there: You assume I am mature.

“I’m shocked you can last an hour. That was brutal. The things we do for love.” — That thing being a human jungle gym.

“Let’s bring back summer” — By that he surely means the Championship. We live in hope.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie

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