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Ban on fans brought to an end but GAA must keep its guard up against coronavirus



Welcome: Stephen McGeehan

Welcome: Stephen McGeehan

�INPHO/Presseye/Kelvin Boyes

Michael Kerr, Tyrone County Chairman

Michael Kerr, Tyrone County Chairman

Welcome: Stephen McGeehan

The decision by the Stormont Executive to end the ban on spectators attending outdoor events has been warmly welcomed by the GAA in particular.

Up until yesterday, club sides in Ulster had been faced with the very real possibility of participating in their All-County leagues and championships behind closed doors - something that had triggered uncertainty and apprehension in relation to generating income.

But the decision to allow sporting bodies to host events "where the operator can control access and ensure adherence to social distancing" means that spectators will now be afforded the chance to attend games and in the process contribute to the financial welfare of their clubs.

"This is a very encouraging development and gives us renewed impetus going forward," says Stephen McGeehan, the Ulster Council's Head of operations.

"This is something that we had been hoping for and we believe that we will meet the challenge of staging our games within the protocols and regulations that have been laid down by the relevant authorities."

But while the Executive's decision is viewed as a big step forward, the fact that two more clubs in the province have been impacted by the Covid-19 virus is viewed as a bodyblow.

The Killeavy club in south Armagh and Longstone in Down have confirmed that they each have a playing member who has tested positive for the virus and in the case of Longstone, all activities have been halted until next Monday at the earliest.

While Killeavy, where the player who tested positive is a member of their reserve team, initially believed that they too might have to call a total halt to their fixtures programme and indeed all related activities, it was subsequently disclosed that tonight's scheduled Armagh senior league fixture away to Granemore will go ahead as planned unless there is any further setback.

Club chairman Michael O'Neill has, along with other officials, worked tirelessly since confirmation of the infiltration of the virus to ensure that every remedial step was taken in line with protocols.

In a statement issued on behalf of the club, O'Neill said: "I have been in contact with our Covid-positive player and he has informed me that Public Health have already carried out tests on his close contacts. The results of these tests should be known (today) and, unless we have any more positives affecting members, then activities should return to normal immediately with the exception of the team affected. At the moment, the County Board has confirmed that our first team fixture against Granemore remains on."  

It is understood that the St Patrick's club in Eglish in which a senior player tested positive for Covid-19 earlier in the week may now be able to resume activities earlier than had been anticipated.

With four matches in the Antrim senior football championship, a full programme of All-County league fixtures in Down, Armagh, Tyrone and Fermanagh and the opening matches in the Derry senior hurling championship all listed for this weekend, GAA officials are understandably ready to take every precaution as they prepare to lay out the welcome mat for followers.

While a number of counties have already made arrangements to have club games streamed, the fact that the way has been paved for fans to return looks certain to trigger considerable interest in the club scene.

Tyrone county board chairman Michael Kerr is among leading officials who, while relieved that fans can return, is urging there should be "no complacency whatsoever" going forward.

"While we will be glad to see the fans back, we will be taking great care to observe the protocols. It is essential that we all do our utmost to ensure that everyone is protected," says Kerr.

Belfast Telegraph