Westmeath chairman fears National League will be cancelled

Westmeath chairman Frank Mescall has said it would be “totally irresponsible” to resume collective inter-county training
Westmeath chairman fears National League will be cancelled

A general view of an empty section of the stand as players contest the throw-in at the start of the first half during the Allianz Football League Division 2 Round 7 match between Kildare and Westmeath in Newbridge. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

New Westmeath chairman Frank Mescall has said it would be “totally irresponsible” to resume collective inter-county training on February 1 unless there is a “huge” drop in Covid case numbers.

The return date for collective inter-county training was pushed back from January 15 to February 1 earlier this month, with Westmeath chief Mescall calling for a further delay.

Mescall has also said “it wouldn’t be a surprise” if the 2021 League competitions were cancelled.

Although daily case numbers have dropped below 3,000, the seven-day average remains well above this mark.

Mescall, who took up the post of Westmeath County Board chairman last month, said there would need to be a “huge improvement” in Covid case numbers for Croke Park to sanction a return to collective training at the start of next month.

The GAA’s Head of Games Administration, Feargal McGill, has insisted that no decision on a return to collective training will be finalised until Friday, January 29.

“It would be totally irresponsible and not safe for the players and their families,” said Mescall of inter-county training resuming while Covid case numbers remained high.

I know players want to play and train and get out there, but it would be unfair on the players first, their families, and society at large. Hopefully, things will improve but it is going to be gradual.

“Counties won't be going back training on February 1, I don’t think, not the way the figures are and the way the country is at the minute. I think it would be a little bit irresponsible for that to happen. Things will have to improve before that happens. Croke Park have been very responsible all along and I would trust them.” 

The National League is scheduled to throw-in on the weekend of February 27/28, but again, Mescall does not see this date being met.

“The way it is looking now, if they do go ahead, they’ll certainly be pushed back. It is doubtful if they will go ahead. With the way they are, shortened Leagues and that, it wouldn't be a surprise to see that they were cancelled. I wouldn't be surprised anyway.” 

Offaly County Board chairman Michael Duignan said last week the cost of preparing both their hurling and football teams for the League would be in excess of €200,000, with his Westmeath counterpart saying a similar figure would apply to their flagship teams ahead of the spring competition.

Westmeath did record a €9,000 surplus for 2020, but with the €80,000 operating grant not expected to be paid by Croke Park to counties this year, as well as team costs that will be incurred if the League does proceed as planned, Mescall is forecasting a “huge” end of year deficit.

The Westmeath chairman said their 2021 accounts will still be deep in the red even if crowds are permitted to attend club championship games in late summer and early autumn.

“We are looking at a huge deficit this year from where we are standing. Obviously there will be no gates from the National hurling and football League, if they do go ahead.

We did very well last year to record a surplus. But if Government money didn't come, we were in a bad way and would have been big time in the red. Government money kept our heads above water.

“What we are facing this year, it is looking like we will have to foot that bill ourselves at the minute. I don't think that will happen, but that is what we have to work on at the moment.” 

The hope is there will again be Government subvention, “but we don't know what it will be”.

And there is little, he added, that can be done on the fundraising front to boost their income ledger.

“Club Iarmhí would be one of our sources of bringing in revenue and you can appreciate their hands are tied completely. Clubs have a little bit better leeway to do a little bit [of fundraising], but certainly as a county, no, we are doing nothing and nothing is going to be planned for the foreseeable future in that line.” 

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