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Being realistic: Dick Clerkin can’t see a way for club action to return while intercounty remains off the table

Being realistic: Dick Clerkin can’t see a way for club action to return while intercounty remains off the table

©INPHO/James Crombie

Being realistic: Dick Clerkin can’t see a way for club action to return while intercounty remains off the table

The chairperson of the GAA's Medical, Scientific and Welfare Committee, former Monaghan footballer Dick Clerkin, has outlined his concerns with suggestions that a return to action could be close, warning that the sporting public may have to come to terms with the prospect of no Gaelic games in 2020.

After a series of announcements and follow-ups from health and then sporting bodies this week, there is a sense that a programme of club action could be planned for July at the earliest.

However, Clerkin cautioned against that and stated: "How can you have no county but then club?

"Whether they play or not will not be financial, it will not be because we need to have a Championship. If it's a no, it's a no for both."

The two-time Ulster title winner explained: "There are 2,500 GAA clubs. There are 64 inter-county teams, or more. You can't just say that club is a small grouping. If you open it up, then you have hundreds of thousands of people interacting en masse.

"Even inter-county games - do the numbers. From a risk point of view, it is huge in terms of volume. It's very difficult for the GAA to make a decision even unilaterally to allow their players back. It is such a high volume of players overall.

"People could say, 'Ah, there are low rates in Monaghan, you can play in Monaghan but you can't play in Dublin'. You can't do that. The problem that GAA have is the sheer volume of units overall."

With official GAA sources quoting a figure of €60m (£52m) as the cost if they cannot host their inter-county Championships, Clerkin insisted that a desire to generate that income will not be critical to their thinking.

"We are in totally different times. The social benefits and all the rest, the integrity of the Association in terms of having a Championship, is much bigger than the potential flow of revenue," he said.

"The GAA is very cash-rich, it is not going to go into liquidation like a soccer club - it does not need to keep opening the doors to keep money coming in. It will manage fine."

The GAA will be strictly adhering to how they are advised by medical experts, he said.

"There will be no solo runs in terms of making up wee rules about what is acceptable or not in terms of conducting games. There will be no discussions or proposals put forward in terms of playing games behind closed doors or competition structures without taking that advice," he said.

"It's down to risk, really. You have to look at it that way; what is the risk around having everything back to normal?

"Take it at the end of the spectrum. Mass crowds, if you had 80,000 in Croke Park it's a huge risk. But you don't go to zero. At some point, is there an acceptable level of risk, based on it? It's to decide what that point is, at that time.

"I can't answer that. I am not qualified to answer that. You have to take your steer from a public health expert and basically use the same models they are using for social isolating and apply that same model to Gaelic games."

He continued: "So the question you ask is, 'Is it okay for 30 grown men to be in a confined space, breathing heavily?'

"In terms of contraction, I would say that is quite a high risk.

"It's a low number of people but it is not good that you and I are beside each other, marking each other. And so if you have it, there is a very good chance I will have it by the end of the game. That's the problem."

On Thursday, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon made the point that social distancing may become a facet of everyday life for over a year, something that will become apparent on these shores soon.

Any relaxation of this, Clerkin believes, will cause people's self-discipline to deteriorate.

"We have this conversation daily here about social isolation, not visiting our parents and all the rest - so me getting into the car to go to Scotshouse, to sit outside the door in the car and chat to the folks, it's very safe, low-risk," he said.

"But we don't do that. If we did that, then others will all be doing it - and then it becomes a problem. If it is okay for two football teams to go and play a game in close quarters, well then how do you tell everybody else in society, 'No, you can't go to the pub, you can't go to mass. But you can watch 30 boys bumping into each other on a pitch and that's okay?'"

Belfast Telegraph