GAA president John Horan has said the 2020 inter-county championships could be completed next year but won’t go beyond February.
The Central Competitions Control Committee will finalise a new structure for the All-Ireland senior, U20 and minor championships before the end of this month after the Association yesterday revealed their roadmap to the return of Gaelic Games activity.
Club teams can return in groups of no more than 10 in a designated area of a field from the end of next month with club competitions set to return from July 31 for a period of 11 weeks.
Inter-county teams won’t be officially permitted to train collectively until September 14 before their season resumes possibly with provincial championships from no earlier than October 17.
The plan was signed off on Thursday by the GAA’s management committee and Central Council prior to the Government announcing they were speeding up their roadmap, and GAA president John Horan admitted they may have to reflect that development in their schedule.
“We’ve always said we would accept it maybe creeping into the first two months of 2021, if necessary,” he remarked. “That’s always been on the cards that we may have to access January and February to finish it off. It won’t go any further than February.”
Preventing inter-county teams from training collectively until mid September 14 appears ambitious but GAA director of player, club and games administration Feargal McGill believes it is fair in the circumstances.
“I think it’s very realistic. There’s a cake here that has to be divided amongst a massive amount of participants. The overwhelming body of participants are club players. On any terms, if you’re given a full month to prepare a team, that’s absolutely plenty. We’d love to give county managers more, we’d love to be able to give clubs more. It’s just not possible in the constraints.
“We’d a couple of team doctors on our (Covid-19 advisory) group, etc. We didn’t just pluck a date out of the air. So I think it’s practical. I don’t expect county managers to be happy about this. Far from it. But that’s a very different thing to whether it’s practical or not.”
Horan stressed that the GPA were briefed at all times. “There has been intense contact with the GPA. (CEO) Paul Flynn joined us on the advisory group, looking specifically at training, and contributed fully to the discussions. In an informal way as well.
“We’ve had extensive contact with the GPA over the last number of weeks, on every different dilemma. It’s fair to say the views of county players have been represented.”
Both the Ladies Gaelic Football Association and The Camogie Association were also party to the advisory group’s plans and have agreed to follow the return to play protocols. As for the exclusive 11-week period for clubs, McGill insisted there is no directive from Croke Park to counties to reformat their championship as knock-out competitions.
“It is a matter for each county as to how they will run their club championships. It is up to them to come up with their structures in terms of the inter-county championship. The CCCC will come up with something once we are ready to move on to Phase Three.
“Frankly I think it is a complete misnomer (knock-out being fair on club players). I think we are presented with a particular problem here, a shortened calendar and we can't deliver everything we would like to deliver to either county player or club player.
So everyone is going to have to just take a small bit of understanding about what we are trying to do and take a small bit of pain, if you'd like. I'd certainly say the club players are to the front in this, I would absolutely say that, as a club player by the way.
Clubs will be free to stage league games from October and a decision on whether to complete the outstanding games in the Allianz League will be taken later this month. It was also confirmed the advisory group considered staging county games before club but it was felt they were too many difficulties.
“Yes, we did think about that very carefully,” said Donegal senior football team medic Dr Kevin Moran, a member of the body. “We looked at the logistics, we’re going to have something in the region of half a million players returning so we thought what is the safest way to proceed. So there is a very detailed protocol, as we’ve heard already for players, for club administrators, for managers and that has to be followed with regard to filling out the questionnaire, having temperatures taken and following all the other processes that are in place.
“With regard to testing as well, the early information we have from the Premier League is that there’s a very high incidence in this age group. In the young, fit U30 age group, U25 age group, there’s a very high incidence of false positives and false negatives and I think their original assessment was there was 70% accuracy rate to this test.”
So long as two metre social distancing is in place, contact training is out of the question but there is optimism that it will be reduced in the coming weeks prior to date pencilled in by the GAA for its return on July 20.
And on the basis of the Government’s announcement yesterday to accelerate the reopening of society, the GAA acknowledged they could yet bring forward dates pending the Covid-19 awareness training for players, mentors and club officials.
“I think we have to get that training in place before we open our facilities. When that is in place, obviously it may take the three weeks through to the next phase, then we will open our facilities.
“We are going to be flexible and the movement with the Government this afternoon was quite positive. We are quite happy to row along with that positivity, but again the training is key before we open the facilities.”