Limerick GAA chairman John Cregan admits the Government’s decision not to increase outdoor crowd limits to 500 from Monday is “a nightmare” for spectators and the board.
Cregan accepts the call has been made in the interest of public safety but says the cap of 200 extending to August 10 at the earliest is a major financial blow for county boards as most if not all the round games of the senior hurling championship will effectively be played behind closed doors.
Gauging interest ahead of the start of the SHC next Thursday, there had also been strong expectations that demand would have outstripped supply for those fixtures.
“It’s a nightmare,” concedes Cregan, a Fianna Fáil TD from 2002 to ‘11. “The limit of 200 for the U21 games this weekend was difficult but it was manageable.
“We were all set to go for the capacity to increase for 500 with the senior hurling championship next week and the possibility that the number could increase again to a higher percentage of the venue’s usual capacity but this is now making it very difficult to have any spectators. You take all the participants and those working or volunteering at the game from the 200 and you’re down to very small figures.
“We’d be hugely dependent on the income from our championships to keep the show on the road. While that would have been considerably diminished, it would have helped.”
Cregan confirmed some consideration has been given to postponing games until after August 10 in the hope that the capacity figure will increase. But as things stand, next week’s first round SHC games will go ahead as scheduled.
Also, postponements would put more pressure on the championship schedule. Limerick’s SHC final is set for September 20 and the senior football decider on October 4. Then there is no guarantee that the limit of 200 people will be lifted by then.
“It might seem a good option to wait until after August 10 but clubs are preparing with next week in mind,” Cregan remarks, “and pushing the competitions back would be dependent on what leeway you would be given by Croke Park.”
Cregan hopes that county boards will see some of the €40 million that has been set aside for the GAA, FAI, and IRFU. For now, the Limerick executive hopes to recoup some lost earnings through live streaming - the county board accrued almost €714,000 in club gate receipts last year.
“You’re still going to have an expensive county campaign regardless of when and for how long it is being played. There is still a significant cost factor there and without gate receipts it’s going to be difficult to find that money.
“Streaming will give patrons the opportunity to see a game at least. It’s not the same as going to a game for so many of those avid supporters but it’s a chance to look at it. At all times, we have to ensure safety and responsibility in our grounds but it’s becoming very difficult to organise games. This is not of our making. We have no issue complying with Government Covid-19 restrictions. Safety has to come first but we were looking forward to phase four and having games back and spectators back. We’re in a bit of quandary now.”