John O’Mahony has called on the GAA to reopen its pitches as soon as possible for the mental wellbeing of its younger players.
Fine Gael’s spokesperson on Transport, Tourism and Sport in the Seanad, O’Mahony appreciates the safety concerns about granting access to club grounds but believes there are also big issues at play keeping fields off limits.
The GAA is set to announce later this week that clubs can reopen their walkways from Monday week providing they have applied and been granted permission by Croke Park.
As pressure on authorities to reopen pitches builds, there are also suggestions the restrictions could be lifted by the end of next month instead of July 20.
However, Galway’s two-time All-Ireland SFC winning manager O’Mahony would like to see that happen now.
He believes club members have shown enough leadership during lockdown to prove they could ensure social distancing is adhered to on the playing surface.
“Being a former teacher, I was a bit disappointed that the pitches weren’t opened up, not for training but kickarounds and that,” said the Mayo man.
I get the point (GAA president) John Horan was making that he didn’t want to put the onus on volunteers to make decisions about access and so on but the GAA, I would say, has the best infrastructure of pitches around the country.
“The volunteers have always stepped up to the plate over the years and they have done it in the last eight to 10 weeks in terms of delivering groceries to elderly people.
"I think they would do the same now to ensure there was supervision or whatever was needed at club grounds from a social distancing perspective for just a kickaround.
“That age group, from seven to 21, is the biggest drop-out rate in all team sports and I just feel they have been through the Leaving Cert dilemma and from the point of mental health alone they should be allowed access, especially when the Government were allowing it.
"I respect the caution that has to be there but volunteers have always taken on the challenge and I think they would supervise this as well.”
O’Mahony’s comments come as the GAA Covid-19 advisory group are considering recommending a go-ahead for club championships to restart from early August and finish in mid to late September.
It is then hoped the All-Ireland inter-county championships can take place in front of reduced crowds.
Proposals for return to training have also been drafted and could see some form of collective training initially being permitted on weekends only.
O’Mahony feels the GAA have a strong hand requesting financial assistance from the Government. Facing over €50m in losses if no matches are played this year, Horan confirmed earlier this month that they would be approaching the Government for help as well as the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The whole country knew they had a love of sport but if I had a euro for every time someone has said to me the last six or seven weeks that they wanted games back, I’d be rich.
They were willing to give up the pub but they were bemoaning there might be no football this year.
“Sport is huge and I would hope the Government will recognise the difficulty it is facing.
“There are many calls on the coffers at the moment but a major part of the economy is the area of sport, transport and tourism and it’s no coincidence they’re in the one department. I think they should look on it (a GAA application) favourably in whatever way that allows.
“The regeneration of the economy, sport will play its part in that in spades.
“I would hope the Government or the new Government would be favourably disposed to sports in general and the current Government showed that with the difficulties faced by the FAI before.”
As much as he would like to see crowds at games, O’Mahony maintains matches behind closed doors has to be a consideration “if it is a matter of running a competition or not but the goalposts are changing so much now that things could change next week”.