With the GAA world in flux as they attempt to stage their major competitions in the coming weeks as well as the final stages of domestic club Championships, Declan Bogue speaks to Ulster Council CEO Brian McAvoy about what has been and what is yet to come as the body makes its' way through 2020.
Q. Let's start with the youngest members of the GAA and how things affect them. Now that schools have gone back, will coaches be able to go into schools to help children take their first steps in sport?
A. It's a matter for schools to decide if they would like to have coaches in or not. They are not 'banned' per se.
Coaches are basically approved visitors to schools, but it is a matter for each individual school. Some may be comfortable and some may not be comfortable in terms of what they can do, and others it may not suit their timetable.
Certainly any level of activity in schools will be very reduced, for the first term anyway until we know where we stand. It's a matter for each individual school as to how they may work within their own schedule and whatever restrictions they have to put in place, because everything is not how it used to be.
Q. The Ulster Council have had to Furlough a great number of staff during this time. Has there been any indication that this period could be extended, with Germany unveiling plans to continue their scheme into 2021?
A. Our Ulster GAA staff are employed under the six county regulations. You have county committee coaches working in the 26 counties and then in the six counties under two different employment schemes.
The Furlough scheme ends on the 31st of October and I am not aware of any plans that (Conservative Party Chancellor) Rishi Sunak has to extend it beyond that. For now, we are working on the basis it will be over on the 31st of October.
Q. Back in late May, we heard that an announcement on the redevelopment of Casement Park was imminent. That has been months ago. What is the latest?
A. There has been (progress). We have been assured by the planners that they are working to bring this to a conclusion.
And we would anticipate a planning decision, if not in September, then certainly October. I would be very surprised if it went beyond October. I would certainly hope so (that there is a definitive announcement).
They have not told us, but from our conversations with them, I think they said at some stage before the end of the summer. Realistically, I would be very surprised and disappointed if we didn't have a planning decision certainly by October at the latest.
Q. It's been a little easier for supporters of clubs in the Northern Ireland counties who have been able to have some presence at games while attendances have been taken away from club games in the other counties.
A. Every county is taking a hit, but obviously in the 26 counties they are back to no spectators. County committees have taken a massive hit in terms of numbers.
Q. It's something of an impossible situation.
A. I think there is an onus on us all to work within the public health guidelines.
It's slightly different in the north from the south in terms of numbers.
That's just one thing, but the key thing is that in the 26 counties - and three of our nine counties fall within that bracket - unless you have a reason to be there and you are one of these 40 designated people from the club, then you have no reason to be at the game.
You might like to be at it, but under the current guidance, you can't be at it and it's just a matter that this is rigidly enforced as it had been up the north.
Q. And yet, we have all seen the pictures of crowds gathered on banks or up cherry pickers watching from outside the official grounds.
A. Well, there is nothing to stop people watching from banks. We have no control over that.
There had been one or two initial suggestions that in the early stages there had been crowds. My experience in a number of counties had been that it was fairly well adhered to. I can't be at every game every time, but I have seen very strict measures in place, certainly at the games I have been at.
Q. Streaming of club games has been a remarkable success story.
A. It's good to see that these games in Ulster are available to be seen. It's the third or fourth now, one of the games in Donegal, then Kilcoo v Mayobridge, I think this is the third game in Ulster.
You are now getting the Friday night games on TG4, you are getting Saturday games on RTÉ and Sunday games on TG4 as well.
In fairness to the broadcasting companies they have been very good in working with us and in fairness there is a good standard of football in the games that have been played.
In Tyrone for example they are streaming every Championship game at every grade, so that's a big plus.
Q. What would be the Ulster Council's view on the proposals gathering momentum around a split club/county season?
A. The split season is something that seems to be gaining traction. In terms of it, I know that the group chaired by Eddie O'Sullivan have reconvened and they have another meeting scheduled for this week in relation to looking at their plan. They put a set of proposals out last year. Split season was one of those.
There was to be a Special Congress in September to deal with these things and obviously that has fallen by the wayside.
It will be interesting to see how Covid has revised the thinking on a lot of these things. There certainly seems to be a growing support, or at least to have it examined in detail how a split season may work.
There are a number of factors we have to bear in mind, it's not just all about dates, there is always a knock-on effect as well that maybe just don't become apparent straight up.
But as a concept, I think it might work well.
Q. All the children who attended Cúl camps over the summer had just one Covid case from 71,000 attending. Was it a mistake not to have them in the six counties?
A. I think the Cúl camps were very well supported in the counties that ran them. The issue in relation to the north was the different government employment schemes. In the north, staff were Furloughed, which meant you couldn't do any work, while in the south, it was a Covid top-up scheme.
In both jurisdictions, one was you were being paid for not being at work, the other subvention was you were being paid to be at work.
And that was the big issue, what led to the difference. It was down to finance and practicalities.
Q. Is this the strangest situation you have seen for the GAA?
A. Yes. We have never been in a situation like this ever before.
We may have had Pandemics, the Spanish Flu 100 years ago, but it didn't have the same impact globally as this is having.
And it's because there is so much more movement and travelling of people. Migration is so easy compared to what it was 100 years ago.
Foot and Mouth, we had outbreaks in the 1940s. There was a couple of teams that couldn't play in the Championship in Munster during that period. And then at the start of the 2000s, we had foot and mouth again in a number of isolated counties, but it had nowhere near the impact that this is having.
Even when the Taoiseach spoke on the 17th of March famously from America. He said it was a 17th of March like none other, and this Pandemic could spread into the summer.
And we are at the end of the summer now. So I suppose the key question is, 'Which summer?'
I think we can sustain this year, even though we all have taken a big hit, but realistically, Covid is going to be with us for a while and it is how we readjust as a society.
Until you get a vaccine that works properly, we are still going to have rising numbers. The big unanswered question at the minute is that in the early stages you are getting high numbers of infections, but you were also getting high mortality rates.
Numbers are going up, mortality rates don't seem to be going up as much. However, is that just a calm before the storm or is this the way the new trend is going to work?
The big issue is that this is coming. I have seen some statistics that are quite scary.
Professor Gerry Killeen has said that if you reopen the schools, as is happening throughout the island of Ireland, you will have 1,000 cases a day by October and by the end of the year you will have 10,000 cases a day.
That's one line of thought, but nobody knows this sort of stuff.
This is because we have never come across any of this before and the answer is nobody knows.