GAA must keep 32-county approach to return to play, Donegal chairman insists

Ulster GAA secretary Brian McAvoy suggested clubs in the North may be able to go back training earlier than those in the 26 counties
GAA must keep 32-county approach to return to play, Donegal chairman insists

Ulster GAA secretary Brian McAvoy suggested clubs in the North may be able to go back training earlier than those in the 26 counties

Donegal chairman Mick McGrath has stressed the importance of the GAA aligning the return to play on both sides of the border.

After Ulster GAA secretary Brian McAvoy suggested clubs in the North may be able to go back training earlier than those in the 26 counties, McGrath expressed his fear such a scenario would cause issues in border counties.

The GAA, who have been adopting a 32-county approach, are keeping a watching brief on how the Northern Ireland Assembly ease restrictions.

The earliest date the Government are considering is April 5 but, as they are at a more advanced stage of vaccinations, Stormont may relax them later this month.

“If that happens, we will deal with it and I can’t really say any more than that at this stage,” said GAA director of club, player and games administration Feargal McGill. The Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media were not available for comment.

McGrath hopes the GAA can synchronise the return to play dates across the jurisdictions.

“It could lead to difficulties for players living on the border area if they can’t train and those across it can,” he told the Irish Examiner.

“Anything that creates difficulties one must be concerned about it. We have to be patient until the end of March to see what we’re doing as a nation and as island of Ireland we should be working together.

“We’re a 32-county organisation, which is one of our main aims, which is on page one of our An Treoir Oifigiúil.

To me our organisation has been instructing our members in all 32 counties at all stages about their directions and I would hope that would continue, that we will work together as a 32-county organisation.

McGrath believes there would be an appetite in clubs in border counties to train across the border should their fellow Ulster counties be permitted to train before them. But he insists units in Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan must hold tight.

“It would be breaking the 5km if they do that and we are adhering to that. Everybody is taking this serious. We have to be very careful.

“There have been a few outbreaks in recent weeks and they’re quite traceable. We have to ensure that we don’t allow our members to break rank as the numbers come down to manageable ones hopefully by the end of March.

“We have to keep rank and let’s not break it anywhere in the country for what we’re trying to achieve and that’s to stick together on this and the GAA have worked tremendously well over the last number of months in creating the situation for kids to go back playing and we’re all trying to attain that. We have to stay together on this and keep the line.”

Ulster CEO McAvoy suggested clubs in the six counties could be back training before those in the 26.

“Adult club seems to be Level 3 in the south where potentially it could come at level two or two-and-a-half in the north, so there could be a slight difference,” he told The Irish News.

“If that was the case I presume we could argue the case around training at least. But I do feel that in terms of competitive start dates, it will be fairly consistent.”

Former Armagh star Oisín McConville called on the GAA to allow clubs in the six counties to return to play as soon as the NI Assembly gives the go-ahead.

“If we have the opportunity in the North go to back on the pitch, that’s exactly what we should do.

Obviously, the vaccinations in the North have been a massive success – not so in the South. I don’t think it’s right to punish a certain section of the GAA because they are are not in line as far as government or opening it up.

He added: “The message is very, very simple. Don’t punish 25% of the association because we don’t have our ducks in a row elsewhere.”

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