As the Island of Ireland tentatively takes the first tentative steps out of the Covid-19 pandemic, the powers that be at Croke Park are burning the midnight oil looking to reschedule the GAA calendar year but it is a topic that historically divided the room. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the current plight faced by the organization.
For a sporting administrator, I do not envy their position one bit right now. The unpredictability of this pandemic all too evident in the fluctuating positions issued by the GAA HQ in recent months. Three months ago, the chances of a season were squashed out of hand but fast forward to now and there is a general belief that the GAA calendar could be played off within the 2020 calendar year which is extraordinary given the backdrop.
The current proposal is ambitious. It depends very much on the country’s management of the pandemic and the second wave which many experts have highlighted may happen in Ireland like in other European countries.
The club season will be concluded in an optimistic eleven week window (end of July to mid-September) with some counties looking to consolidate even further the club calendar year (nothing looking at anyone in Wexford and Waterford). The lack of preseason for club members leading to concerns on player welfare and potential injury increase.
The key question that needs to be asked is how prepared are GAA HQ in their return to play protocols? The local club scene resumption is most welcome, but even more so getting the local GAA club and pitch facilities open will be a major boost for rural and urban communities. The GAA club is the heart and soul of many parishes and the facility is a key link for the community from a sporting, fitness, mental well being and socializing aspect.
The question is how the club season proceeds? How will the local GAA club provide a facility which members can attend with confidence and enjoy? What measures will be adopted by the local GAA club to make this happen? Temperature checks, social distancing and crowd control all look problematic. How does the GAA local club control this on a daily basis? Facility supervision seven days a week is unsustainable. Mission impossible.
There will be issues among certain club players about coming back to GAA action. Training and matches where contact is a given. How will players, management and backroom staff members be monitored for Covid-19? It requires regular testing but this costs money. Local GAA clubs look well exposed in terms of liability from the pandemic.
Some clubs may not think it is worth the risk and not participate in club fixtures this season. Some may scoff at that sentence but a death in the community which is linked to a local GAA club fixture will have massive consequences not just for the local club but not for the entire GAA organization.
The local GAA clubs need more direction, understanding and leadership from GAA HQ. The eleven week window appears to be a rapid test window for the lucrative intercounty season to kick off later in the year.
Without the local GAA club, there would be no intercounty player or manager. I think the GAA HQ are yet again taking the clubs for granted here. More leadership, more decisive guidelines on return to play protocols are needed for the clubs.
The intercounty season is scheduled to kick start in October with the conclusion of the league season and then into the championship. There is a prospect of Christmas All Ireland finals which would be quite novel but as mentioned, a lot of factors need to go right to be in a position to get to this stage.
I am still concerned over the testing policy and approach from the organization. Regular testing is required for all participants either in club or county fixtures but I am not hearing how this will be implemented. Who will foot the bill? What happens when a GAA member tests positive for Covid-19? How will the season progress thereafter?
I love the ambition to get the GAA fixtures played but the HQ need to come out and really highlight and spell out to club members, fans and intercounty setups the internal protocols and systems that will need to be setup to allow this season to proceed with confidence. There is too much uncertainty right now. High level media sound bites to the national broadcaster were fine in recent weeks, but we need more substance now.