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Clubs should be first up when it comes to restarting GAA, says Steven McDonnell

 

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Starting point: Steven McDonnell wants to see club action mark GAA’s return from lockdown

Starting point: Steven McDonnell wants to see club action mark GAA’s return from lockdown

�INPHO/James Crombie

Brian McAvoy

Brian McAvoy

�INPHO/Presseye/Lorcan Doherty

Starting point: Steven McDonnell wants to see club action mark GAA’s return from lockdown

Former Armagh All-Ireland winner Steven McDonnell believes that the possible re-launch of the 2020 season via a programme of club action when it is deemed appropriate is to be welcomed.

Amid a growing sense of frustration as the ongoing lockdown situation is extended, McDonnell is convinced that there should be no hasty return to inter-county action.

"I think it is better to start with a club programme and see where that takes us," says the Killeavy clubman. "I believe it's better to get as many people involved at grassroots level when the health experts deem it is appropriate for a resumption of the season.

"The clubs obviously offer the opportunity to a lot of officials, players and others to get back into the swing of things and then we can take it all from there.

"I know that with the Allianz League unfinished and other competitions maybe having to go by the wayside, there may be only limited action at inter-county level but this will be determined by the ongoing situation."

From a practical viewpoint, club action could be best accommodated if staged during July or August in order to facilitate the major inter-county programme that would kick in later.

McDonnell, regarded as one of the best forwards to have ever emerged from Ulster, is conscious that the GAA authorities will be taking no chances in terms of putting players at risk even if it means no inter-county action until the latter stages of the year.

"Things will have to take their course," he adds. "We all want to see a return to action but people's health is paramount. I, like many thousands of others throughout the province, am very keen indeed to see the Ulster Championship in particular played as soon as possible but we know at this point in time that this will be later on in the year if at all.

With Ulster Council secretary Brian McAvoy having already indicated that an eight-week All-Ireland Championship programme is feasible, this would suggest that the Ulster Championship might have to be completed within a month.

The four provincial series would be played on a straight knockout basis with the respective champions going forward to compete in the All-Ireland semi-finals and the final perhaps taking place in late November - not necessarily the most suitable time but nonetheless an opportunity to bring the curtain down on the flagship competition within the calendar year.

"This would admittedly not be the most ideal situation and it would mean that every game would have to finish on the day," says McAvoy.

"Obviously other factors such as weather would have to be taken into account and it is possible that you might have to go into 2021. But the fact of the matter is that we will be guided by the health authorities and if they say it's not safe to play then we won't be playing."

The Ulster Club Championships in football and hurling are traditionally staged in the October-November period but it is possible that these could be ruled out this year. In hindsight, the decision to stage this year's All-Ireland club finals in January proved a pearl of wisdom as the traditional St Patrick's Day date would have been a no-go because of the coronavirus threat.

The Club Players Association chairman, Micheál Briody, while not optimistic that there will actually be a resumption of GAA activity at any level this year, believes it is appropriate that the club game should start back first.

"I think this would make sense," maintains Briody, a Monaghan-based businessman.

"To be fair, the Croke Park authorities have been doing things exactly right. They are not making any rash decisions. I know some people are seeking for clarity and looking for start dates but it's important that the GAA should not be rushed into making any hasty calls.

"If there are games at both club and county level come the end of the year, the competitions will have to be changed to fit the period that is assigned to them, which is the way it should always be.

"The practice should be that you fit a competition into a certain window as opposed to trying to find weekends on which a competition can be accommodated on an ongoing basis."

Belfast Telegraph