GAA president John Horan is confident the Association can run off the National League, All-Ireland Championship, and a full club programme, if inter-county games are allowed from the beginning of May.
The GAA is hopeful of a return to inter-county training activity on the opening weekend of April and having provided a guarantee that teams would be afforded a four-week training window in advance of games, competitive action would then resume on the opening weekend of May.
‘The Path Ahead’ document unveiled by the Government on Tuesday evening restored the GAA’s elite status, although permissible only under Level 4 and not Level 5. It was later clarified by Taoiseach Micheál Martin that the current list of elite sports exempted under Level 5 restrictions, which doesn’t include inter-county GAA, will be allowed to continue and there may have been a clerical error in the plan.
Horan said this morning GAA top-brass were not surprised by what was contained within the plan. He expressed optimism that inter-county training will return on April 5.
If inter-county activity is cleared to return at the beginning of April, meaning a May start to games, Horan told RTÉ Radio 1’sshow that Croke Park is “confident we can get a full games programme into that timeframe”.
Horan indicated the playing of the National League remains very much on the table. He again stressed inter-county would proceed first, but did not rule out the club season being run off in between the National League and All-Ireland Championship.
How the GAA’s revised 2021 calendar will look depends on how “we move down through the levels”, Horan added.
“You saw last year we were very flexible. We got through a full club programme, we completed the League, and we got the inter-county championship played. If we got going in May, in comparison to last year when it was towards the end of July that we got started, I'd be confident that we will get the games programmes in place and we will get all activities completed.
“We'd have that extra time period from May to July that we didn't have last year. I am quite confident that a games programme will be there to do the National League, a full club programme, and also the inter-county championship.
"What will influence the permutations is how we move down through the levels. Obviously, the first level that will come back for us will be inter-county and then how long will it be before the actual club gets back into full flow. It would be a bit presumptuous of me to give you a definite on [the exact shape of the season]. That can be looked at. There is flexibility. But people can be confident and be positive the GAA will be back and we will get through all our programme.
“That is one positive message I want to get out there to everybody. The GAA will function and will function fully if we can get going with our inter-county games on May (1/2).”
The GAA president, whose three-year term concludes this weekend, expects crowds to return to games towards the latter end of the year and said the association’s largest stadia will be utilised to ensure spectators are facilitated at games.
“Towards the latter end of the year, in our bigger stadia, I think we will see some crowds returning. We have done it already in terms of working out numbers in terms of social distancing - one and two metres - as to how many spectators we can get into Croke Park and we'll be capable of doing that for our other big stadia.
“What you'll find is the bigger games will be played in the bigger stadia so that we can facilitate bringing back spectators."
On the Association’s €34m deficit from 2020, he commented: “We have been stretched financially, but we are big, we are strong, and robust. In the short term, if we have to go and borrow money, be it from the Government or whatever, we are strong enough to do that and once crowds come back, we'll be able to get ourselves back up on a strong footing financially. Finances are important, but I don't think it should be an impediment to us keeping going.”
Despite a recent Croke Park letter to Minister Catherine Martin asking her not to designate any more GAA games as free to air, the outgoing president assured members it is not the association’s intention to put an increased number of games behind a paywall.
“The reason for that [request] is we don't want to be restricted. There are benefits to the media rights of our games. Those benefits are fed back into the organisation. Over 80% of our funds generated in a year are redistributed through the organisation.
“It is not a case of us trying to exclude people, but it is a case of us putting a reasonable and correct value on what we actually have. It is not our intention to start putting a whole load more games behind the paywall.”