Stephen O’Brien: Players are used to closed door games

Playing games behind closed doors wouldn’t be a problem for Stephen O’Brien but he would feel for the fans kept out.
Stephen O’Brien: Players are used to closed door games
In attendance at the Allianz Football League 2020 launch in Dublin is Stephen O'Brien of Kerry. 2020 marks the 28th year of Allianz’ partnership with the GAA as sponsors of the Allianz Leagues. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Playing games behind closed doors wouldn’t be a problem for Stephen O’Brien but he would feel for the fans kept out.

The Kenmare man agrees with his manager Peter Keane that Championship games in front of empty stands and terraces would be better than nothing.

The testing of players that would be required for that to come about is another matter but his experience of training in Killarney and challenge games means he wouldn’t be completely discombobulated by the idea of behind closed matches actually happening although he wonders if they will at all.

“Yeah, it probably is better than nothing. Obviously, it would be very difficult for supporters not to go to matches that they’re used to going to. From a players’ point of view, we’re used to it training. We train in Fitzgerald Stadium, which is a huge stadium. Most of the challenge matches we’ve played over the last number of years have been behind closed doors in pitches around the country.

“The players, I’d be okay with playing like that. You wouldn’t need a crowd from that perspective but it probably isn’t realistic from a GAA perspective to have games behind closed doors.”

O’Brien wouldn’t compare GAA players to professional sports people for a second but he believes plenty will be learned from other team sports returning to action in the coming weeks. Testing, he knows, is going to play a huge factor.

“You obviously need a very robust test for players if they were to go back, to ensure all players didn’t have it. I’m not sure how feasible that is. In terms of everyone playing the game, you would think you’re young and fit and healthy so the virus isn’t as much of a risk to those playing but it’s just the people you’re in contact with. How can you justify… maybe you get over it but then you give it to a loved one who isn’t as fortunate. So the situation has to be in a lot better state than the moment.

“You probably couldn’t go to work either for people that are working. I know they’ve discussed things like in the Premier League and the NBA where they could bring all the professional teams to a control area.

“That’s just not possible in GAA — it’s not a professional organisation and even then, professional organisations haven’t come up with that proposal. We’d probably have to take the lead from them before doing anything.”

Even playing two Championships in one year, that is 2021, is something he would consider. “The club All-Ireland series stretches into a new year so it would be an interesting one. You don’t want to be playing Championship matches in January when you know the weather isn’t going to be great.

“We experienced that a couple of times during the League. We played above in Tyrone during a storm and had a game against Mayo put back because of another storm. That presents its own challenges but I’d still be playing Championship than not so it’s interesting they’re proposing that.”

Testing of another variation made the headlines this past weekend when it was reported an inter-county footballer in his 30s tested positive for a banned substance following an Allianz League game.

Keane knows how responsible he has to be. “I can only speak from our perspective and our dietitians and those who advise us could not have stressed any more how important the issue of strict liability was for anything you put in your body.

“You have to have testing and the threat of getting caught. The penalties are very severe for a positive test and that’s probably correct because it’s very important to have everyone on a level playing field.”

An engineer with Janssen BioCork2, O’Brien is considered an essential worker and has been able to go to his workplace in Ringaskiddy. He hasn’t been home in five weeks where his mother Mary’s Hawthorn House B&B in Kenmare has keenly felt the outbreak.

“At first the cancellations came in a trickle and then there was just a flood so it is difficult for her. The tourist industry is obviously shut down for a while but it remains to be seen how it rebounds even when the thing goes away. It’s definitely difficult economically for a town like Kenmare.”

As for football, it has been put on a longer finger but it’s not like he is dropping everything. Kerry strength and conditioning coach Jason McGahan has insisted on that.

“The first date we were given was March 29 and we were probably given a programme where we were training quite hard the week after we stopped training collectively but as the date has moved out, we probably have eased off a little bit in our training and now it is more maintenance, getting ready to get back on the pitch when we are doing it. No one knows for sure when we’ll be back and anyone who says he does is lying.”

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