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GAA players need to be given clarity on potential start date: Sheehan

 

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Target point: Ronan Sheehan wants a provisional return date to aim for, even if it gets altered closer to the time

Target point: Ronan Sheehan wants a provisional return date to aim for, even if it gets altered closer to the time

�INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Target point: Ronan Sheehan wants a provisional return date to aim for, even if it gets altered closer to the time

While the GAA has now put power in the hands of the 16-man Management Committee with regards to what happens with inter-county competitions for 2020, players and staff are all in the dark as to what might happen.

 

Down hurling manager Ronan Sheehan is on the Gaelic Players' Association National Executive and is trying to keep not only his panel happy, but that of Newry Shamrocks where he is a player-coach.

Early indications are that some sort of club activity could commence in July, with Sheehan stating: "The fact that they are saying there is nothing happening until July would suggest that the very earliest they are looking at is a September start date.

"Because they are going to have to give a four-week lead-in period - at least - for inter-county teams to prepare. There is a recognition of that internationally in terms of what soccer teams have talked about.

"So that brings you into September and you might be into a knockout Championship. That seems to be what they are talking about.

"September, a knockout Championship, trying to get it finished before the end of the year possibly, trying to get it finished in time for the 100th anniversary of Bloody Sunday at the end of November. But ultimately, who knows?"

The very notion of playing games behind closed doors, as currently mooted in some circles, is beyond Sheehan's comprehension.

"Do you open up behind closed doors? I think that presents two problems from a player's perspective. One, the players have to go home too," he said.

"They might have to go into family homes that have vulnerable family members or indeed a wider support network that they are helping out.

"Who is to say that they won't bring it (coronavirus) back into their house because they come into contact with it? Players' safety becomes a concern - maybe not the players because generally they are young and healthy but actually their family and wider family circle.

"It's not like the proposals for soccer. You can go and play soccer behind closed doors and effectively cocoon the players for a six to eight-week period because they are professionals and they can do that.

"We can't cocoon our players in the same way. Behind closed doors, the risks are less, no doubt about that in terms of spread in the community.

"So it becomes a very, very different set of circumstances. And you probably move into the space whereby you are playing it because of the financial commitments to sponsors or the TV rights and the contracts and, indeed, playing for a welfare perspective where you are playing for the larger community."

As a coach, Sheehan finds himself, like all other county managers, in uncharted territory. Skills challenges and timed 5k and 10k runs are all the rage within some county set-ups right now as players all tick over with their personal fitness.

"There is no common approach because nobody knows. The one thing we would be saying in the GPA is that we need a decision," said Sheehan.

"We need a date, even if the date is only provisional and we are saying provisionally we are going in September. It might change even closer to then.

"But at least you could say to squads then to go away home there for the next two months. There is no point putting in your 5k times and all this stuff because ultimately we won't be playing for 12-14 weeks, so let's step down for six weeks.

"Clarity becomes important, even if it is just to set a provisional date."

In the last week, the worst-case scenario from a sporting sense - that all mass gatherings would be banned for the rest of 2020 or until a vaccine for Covid-19 can be created and spread widely - was ventured.

"It might be a natural reality," said Sheehan.

"But to find out this early in the year, to say there is no hope for the GAA this year, it would be another blow to the collective mental health of the nation.

"The question for me in all of this is that if we cannot play and organise inter-county games, with the resources brought into play from a social distancing perspective, how are we ever going to get the club matches back up and running?

"People say there won't be the same crowds gathering, and there is no doubt about that, but at the moment they are still defining a large gathering as 10 people or more.

"But you go to a local match in Down, or Tyrone? Good luck with trying to keep the social distancing there.

"An ordinary Division Two match or whatever it might be, the lads on the pitch will be playing away, but the crowd will be mingling. It becomes very difficult.

"If we can't organise an inter-county competition because of this, I am not convinced that we can get our club competitions up and running."

Belfast Telegraph