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Action in Ulster 'will not return if rest of GAA is still on hold'



No admittance: A fan buys a ticket for a GAA county game... but when will the turnstiles open again?

No admittance: A fan buys a ticket for a GAA county game... but when will the turnstiles open again?

Declan Woods

Declan Woods

No admittance: A fan buys a ticket for a GAA county game... but when will the turnstiles open again?

With the Republic of Ireland's coronavirus lockdown continuing - it had been due to end yesterday but has now been extended until May 5 - and more measures set to be put in place, the GAA's Ulster Council has to grapple with the added complication that it straddles two constituencies.

In theory, competition could start if one or the other constituency of Northern Ireland or Republic of Ireland lifted restrictions on people's movements.

The Ulster Senior Football Championship was set to start with a preliminary round clash between Monaghan and Cavan in Clones.

Thereafter, the quarter-final between Donegal and Tyrone was set to be hosted in Ballybofey, Derry and Armagh in Celtic Park in Derry City, and Fermanagh versus Down in Brewster Park, Enniskillen.

However, the chances of the Ulster Council pressing ahead in either circumstance would appear remote, insisted Ulster public relations officer Declan Woods.

"We are in a unique position due to the fact we are in two jurisdictions," he began. "But the difficulty arises in that we are an all-island body. We are governed and controlled by our headquarters, which is Croke Park, and we follow the rules there.

"So if the GAA at central level are being told, 'We are still not having mass gatherings, we are not permitting competitions', regardless of whether or not it goes back to the norm in the north, we would have to toe the line with the GAA at central level."

He can't see an alternative scenario whereby the Republic were to relax its laws first.

"It might be said that the Republic have been leading the way in terms of taking extreme measures, precautions and steps. I can't see a lessening or a loosening of restrictions coming from the south before it happens in the north," added Woods.

"So I don't see it being a massive issue, unless it was the other way around and I don't see that happening.

"We are governed by the health bodies and the GAA at central level, the sporting association we are all part of.

"At the moment, there are advisory meetings, Ard Chomhairle are meeting through modern technology to speak to all the Central Council delegates about what is going on, what's going to happen.

"I know we in Ulster have a teleconference with the Competitions Control Committee next Tuesday, but again that's just to talk to the nine counties about where we are at because there is an appetite to know what is going on. We don't have an awful lot to tell them at this stage."

There have been strong suggestions in the media that the GAA community in Northern Ireland took measures early, encouraged by the decisive nature in which the Association acted and instructed its members.

Former Tyrone player Peter Canavan certainly stated as much last week when he said: "We took our lead from the GAA up here. They were very proactive and showed very strong leadership at the beginning. Their guidelines have been very well adhered to here, as far as I'm aware. Clubs have been sticking rigidly to them.

"I don't think we will experience the severity of the virus, or at least the same as it is in other countries, because we did take action fairly quickly."

Canavan also said he felt quite confident that the GAA would be able to host a Championship in summer weather.

"I would like to think come the summer when people have to get out and back to work and try and resume their lives as best they can, one of the ways to do that is getting involved in sport - and there may be restrictions in terms of the crowds and capacities," he added. "You may not be allowed to sit beside somebody or there may be a seat or a space between you, but Gaels would have no issue with that."

That acknowledgement of the GAA's willingness to obey the edicts was crucial, insists Woods.

"Dr Tony Holohan's commentary through the HSE and various other parties, that led everyone to understand the situation there and in turn caused the GAA to take guidance. And there were high-level meetings where all the heads of the sporting governing bodies were being updated," he revealed.

"On all sides, everyone saw the value of the volunteer force and bodies out there, the part they could all play in communities.

"It's been a very close relationship with the GAA and the other sporting bodies and the government and Health Service here and the NHS.

"With the GAA in Ulster, we will continue to follow the guidelines and instruction and advice that while perhaps other codes may return sooner if the government and the controlling sporting bodies allow them to, but I don't see a solo run happening in Ulster over the other three provinces."

Belfast Telegraph