There will be no further GAA activity this year, believes former Government minister and Kerry footballer Jimmy Deenihan.
The five-time All-Ireland winner says the GAA should be preparing for the likelihood of there being no inter-county championships in 2020.
Tuesday’s Government decision to effectively cancel summer means September has now become the earliest possible start date to a turnstiles-open All-Ireland championship.
Of course, any return to games activity is dependent on the consent of health authorities and an end to two-metre social distancing.
As Limerick hurler Will O’Donoghue stated on these pages earlier this week, players will not step back on the field unless it is 100% safe to do so.
Deenihan can understand why the GAA are adopting a wait and see approach, but says clubs, county boards, and Croke Park must brace themselves for no return to GAA action until 2021.
“It is impossible to foretell, but all the indications look that way [that there will be no further GAA activity this year]. As of now, it would appear that that is going to be the scenario as we progress through the year,” Deenihan told the.
Personally, I don’t think we have seen the peak of the coronavirus yet. The GAA should be looking now at the season being closed for the whole year. They should be preparing for that.
“It would not be the end of the world if there was no championship this year, absolutely not. And people have accepted that.
"Many of the people I have been in touch with at various levels in the GAA agree with that.”
Deenihan, part of Kerry’s four-in-a-row winning side under Mick O’Dwyer, was effusive in his praise of how responsibly the GAA have acted since Covid-19 landed on these shores and is confident the association will continue to put human life first when the time comes to make further decisions on the 2020 season.
“They are obviously deferring on making that final decision. They are leaving the option open. I can understand they have to do that, other organisations are doing the same.
“I am sure that if the virus continues to spread and if the lockdown is still there, which I think it will, as I think this is actually going to get more drastic, the GAA will then make a final decision.
"They are deferring it just in case there may be a decrease. It is very difficult for the GAA. This is unprecedented, for everybody.
“If the health authorities gave them the go-ahead to play behind closed doors, then that would obviously be better than no championship. There is no doubt about that.
“Human life will be put first by the GAA and as someone who is still involved in the GAA, I have total confidence the GAA will make the right decision going forward.”
Deenihan’s fellow Kerryman, Seán Kelly, strikes a far more optimistic tone.
The former GAA president is extremely positive at the prospect of there being an All-Ireland championship this year.
He has urged Croke Park “not to throw in the towel” on the 2020 inter-county season.
If health authorities were to green light the resumption of GAA games in the coming months, Kelly believes the inter-county championships should commence behind closed doors in August, with the latter stages of the Liam MacCarthy and Sam Maguire competitions run off in September when spectators might be allowed through the turnstiles.
The remainder of the year would then be given over to the clubs, Kelly added.
The Fine Gael MEP said a September start to the All-Ireland championships would be “very late”, but doable.
Another former GAA president, Liam O’Neill, said in recent days the association should forget about playing games for the remainder of the year. But Kelly doesn’t see any need to make a final decision on the 2020 inter-county season in mid-April.
“I wouldn’t ever throw in the towel on it. We are only in the middle of April so why would you say you won’t play a championship this year.
"You’ll find, looking at other countries, there’ll be quick changes, there’ll be a return to normality, maybe, quicker than people think,” Kelly remarked.
“We are better off to keep an open mind, follow the guidance of the HSE, and if we get an opportunity, go for it. Let us wait and see, but do not throw in the towel.
“We also, of course, have to see what is happening in other countries. I would prefer an EU-wide agreed response because different countries are operating different rules.
“Some countries like Austria and Sweden are allowing people to go out and mix, whereas we aren’t.
"We must continue to put public safety first, but it also has to be practical and it would be preferable if it was the same across the entire EU Union.”
He is upbeat as to the likelihood of contact sport being permitted in late summer, early autumn.
“If health authorities give the green light, yes, I can see a return to sport in late summer.
“I know people will say GAA is a contact sport, but if you observe the rules in relation to hygiene, I am quite sure the risk would be absolutely minimal because we will probably be on a good downward spiral by then and probably, hopefully, the virus will have been beaten in the country and you’ll be seeing just the end of it.
“The Championship is of such great interest to so many people and players put so much effort into it that we shouldn’t close the door on it until we really have to.”