Former Kerry footballer Aidan O’Mahony reckons the 2020 All-Ireland senior championships will be played behind closed doors.
Given the current restrictions in place with regard to physical distancing, the ban on public gatherings, and the cocooning of those over 70, O’Mahony cannot see a situation where 82,000 people would be allowed into Croke Park to watch an All-Ireland final in August or September of this year.
The Tralee-based Garda, who won five All-Ireland medals during his time in the green and gold, says the GAA may have to accept the staging of championship games behind closed doors.
The financial hit arising from such a scenario would be most severe considering the €36m the GAA collected in gate receipts last year represented 48% of Central Council’s total income.
Furthermore, the €36m figure does not include what each of the four provincial councils took in from their respective championships and so the financial blow would not be confined to Croke Park were they left with no option but to run off their flagship competitions in front of empty stands and terraces.
“When we come out of this, it’ll be baby steps. If there is a championship, I think it will be later in the year and there will still be restrictions. It will be a case, maybe, where you’ll see most games this year played behind closed doors. I don’t think you’ll have a full-house in Croke Park watching the All-Ireland final, but we’ll get over that if we can watch it on television,” O’Mahony remarked.
“You couldn’t say, right, the championship will be back at the end of June and, then all of a sudden, you are playing an All-Ireland final in the end of September; you are not going to have 82,000 people inside in Croke Park [for that]. The professionals will be, I think, trying to minimise things further down the line.
“Once we get back to normality, that is the most important thing. Once we can keep everyone safe and healthy, that is the priority at the moment.”
Club championships, he added, could face a similar fate.
“Club games, it’ll be great to go back to them. I know most people are trying to stay fit from a GAA perspective. There are so many hours in a day when people are isolating at home that they won’t mind how many people are watching once they get back on a pitch.
“It is about getting back to some bit of normality, and that goes for work, health, and fitness.”
St Finbarr’s football manager Paul O’Keeffe, meanwhile, believes the various Cork championships will be run off on a knockout basis later in the year.
St Finbarr’s were scheduled to meet Ballincollig in Group 1 of the new-look premier senior football championship this weekend. It is unlikely this fixture will ever be fulfilled, certainly not in a group format setting.
The premier senior football championship can be wrapped up in seven weekends, but given the number of dual clubs involved, a far more condensed format will have to be drawn up if Cork’s 11 adult championship competitions — ranging from premier senior to junior A — are to be completed this year.
“Hopefully, we will get some bit of ball before the end of the year. If someone said to you now that you’d be guaranteed some bit of a championship later on in the year, you’d bite a fella’s hand off for it,” said O’Keeffe, a GP at the Broadale Medical Centre in the city.
“I’d be optimistic that there will be something happening, it just depends on what format the championship takes. I would say that it will be far more condensed.
“In fairness to the county board, they put a lot of work into coming up with the new structure, and there was a lot of consultation on it, but they probably have no option now other than a knockout format.”
The Barr’s ended a 33-year wait for Cork senior football championship glory when annexing the Andy Scannell Cup in 2018.
Last year was O’Keeffe’s first at the helm, with the reigning champions losing out at the quarter-final stage to eventual winners Nemo Rangers.
The players, says O’Keeffe, are relishing the prospect of getting back out onto the pitch, whenever that may be. For the time being, however, carrying out the S&C programmes handed down by management is as much as they can do.
“You would hope the current situation doesn’t drag on to autumn and the year passes us by without having any games. That would be depressing for everyone.
“You’d miss it so much. It is only when it is gone that you realise how much you are involved in it and how much it means to you, from every aspect.
“I’d say the first game back, even if it was a junior B match down the páirc, there’ll be 40,000 at it.
“You just miss the interaction with the lads and the team, the cut and thrust of being involved.”
Garda Aidan O’Mahony and Dr Paul O’Keeffe give their Covid-19 frontline experiences in Saturday’s Irish Examiner.