Cork footballer Luke Connolly has said he cannot envisage a return to GAA action until there is "a vaccine or a drastic change in how the virus is treated”.
October was yesterday identified as the earliest possible start date to the inter-county championships, but if it is a case that there is no return to club activity before then, Connolly’s preference - should health authorities green light the resumption of contact sports in the closing months of 2020 - is for club competitions to be prioritised.
He said players cannot be expected to line out for club or county until there is an end to the current social distancing guidelines.
“I can’t see how we will touch a pitch without a vaccine or a drastic change in how the virus is treated, because I don’t see how one day, you have to be two metres apart with a mask on, and then the next day, you can have a corner-back tearing the jersey off you,” the Cork forward observed.
“We are right to remain optimistic, but if you were to ask me my honest opinion, I don’’t see GAA returning any time soon.
“I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts lately regarding the NBA in America coming back. What they are looking at is a bubble system where players and reduced coaching staff are tested and kept within the one unit. If professional sports of that magnitude are struggling to come up with logistics, I can’t see how Nemo v Ballincollig is going to be anyway easier to put on.
“It is great to be putting plans together, but there is the greater good. People’’s health comes before everything else and you don’’t know people’’s situations at home. People could have elderly parents, sick siblings. We have to be realistic, there might not be any sport when it comes to a team basis.”
That he ventures down to a local soccer field now and again to practice his free-taking highlights how much Connolly, the same as every other player, would love to see a return to GAA action. When it is safe to once again play games, the three-time county medal winner with Nemo Rangers is adamant clubs must come first.
“If I was perfectly honest, I would love to see a backing of clubs, as opposed to the inter-county scene. I think there is a massive opportunity for the GAA here to try and drive a sense of community and locality, and try to get the clubs going, as opposed to the elitist level of inter-county. I’’d rather see an emphasis on the clubs.
“If there is going to be games or something that involves going back onto the pitch, it would be clubs I’’d like to see come back. The idea of playing inter-county games behind-closed-doors, yeah, it sounds good, but what is the gain there? What is the gain for the young fella playing with his club? What is the gain for the lad that wants to go back playing junior with his club which is his be-all-and-end-all?
“I’d rather see a big push in trying to put together a model for the clubs to go back playing, as opposed to looking at ideas to get 32 teams playing.”
Connolly added: “The sense of community is something that has shone through during this pandemic and it is something we can push into the GAA, as well, this idea of keeping it local and playing with the people closest to you. It would be a great showing for the GAA, as a whole. It would be another display of community.
“I do accept it could be a logistical nightmare given the number of clubs and trying to get that scheduling together. I just think that if we are pushing to try and get inter-county back, it gives an elitist view of the GAA, which is definitely not what it is. It is a celebration of amateur, and it should be that.”