No GAA inter-county challenge games can take place until May 4 at the earliest.
The Department of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media has confirmed to the Irish Examiner that there is no exemption for such matches between senior teams until the next review of Covid-19 restrictions.
“The public health regulations permit senior inter-county training only from April 19,” the department said.
“The Gaelic Games Associations have been informed that, from April 19, training matches can only take place between authorised players on the inter-county panels concerned. The question of permitting inter-county matches, challenges or otherwise, will be considered by Government towards the end of this month in advance of May 4.”
Ensuring the ban on challenge matches isn’t contravened will be another headache for Croke Park, which had sought clarity on the matter as counties had been hoping to arrange warm-up matches in the three and four-week hurling and football windows ahead of the Allianz Leagues. May 4 is four days before the start of the hurling league and 11 days prior to the football competition commencing.
Between the official inter-county return date last September and the resumption of the 2020 football league and the hurling championships in mid October, challenge games had been permitted. However, the 26 counties at least will be restricted to in-house games.
Kerry senior hurling boss Fintan O’Connor was one manager who had hoped to organise a challenge match or two ahead of his team’s league campaign, which begins against Down in Austin Stack Park on May 9.
I would have loved to get challenge matches because the league is so important to us. You’d like to be pre-prepared. We are always talking about player welfare in the case of injuries, and challenge matches definitely allow players to ease themselves back into competitive action if they have been carrying an injury.
“I know teams would have been looking to organise challenge matches. They’re in the same boat because challenge matches allow fellas to go at 70%, 80%, 90% if they have a knock. In league games, where you are trying to win, injuries happen more and I know that is a big concern for lads coming back not having played for so long.”
O’Connor supported the shortened three-week lead-in to the league as the trade off was more games.
“Lads have been doing a bit on their own, but matches is all they want to do and that’s why I wanted to give them five games. Plus the Joe McDonagh Cup this year is so condensed and so small, it was really appealing for me that the year would be meaningful for them. Just three league games and it would have been too short.”
Meanwhile, the Government has recognised the GAA will require a second subvention to fund the staging of this year’s inter-county season.
“The need for additional financial support to sustain sporting bodies through 2021, including the GAA, is acknowledged. Work is currently under way on the development of a comprehensive support package, the extent and timing of which has still to be determined,” the Department of Tourism, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media noted.
Speaking in February, former GAA president John Horan said Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers had asked them what they, the Ladies Gaelic Football and Camogie Associations would require to assist them this year.
“That came up in the conversation with the minister the other day as well — what level of funding might be available to the three organisations and how could we go about getting it again,” said Horan at the time. “He did indicate that there was money in the budget but he felt there would probably be a need for more money as the pandemic has worsened rather than improved, certainly in the short term.”
Last year, the Government provided €15m towards the running of the inter-county championships in Gaelic football, hurling, ladies football and camogie. The GAA estimated a five-month season, as was originally intended this year, would cost approximately €20m as was the case for the resumed season from October to December last year. However, the men’s senior inter-county season has now contracted from 27 weeks to 20.
Despite Government support, the GAA at central level suffered losses of €34m in 2020 and, without crowds attending games, losses of up to €30m are expected this year.