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GAA rules out start of championship before October while all club grounds must stay closed until July 20

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GAA logo displayed at Croke Park

GAA logo displayed at Croke Park

GAA logo displayed at Croke Park

The GAA has instructed clubs and counties to keep their pitches closed until July 20 at a minimum, deeming the risk of returning any earlier even for small group training sessions too risky.

July 20 was the date that the Irish Government has indicated that sports like Gaelic games and soccer can resume for competitive activity provided spectator numbers can be limited and social distancing maintained.

The decision follows a conference call between county chairpersons and members of the GAA's Management Committee earlier on Wednesday.

That conference call heard that the intention was still to play an inter-county championship later in the year but that club activity would come first, if and when a return to play was deemed safe. County team managers have been asked not to continue with preparations until a potential restart date is identified.

However, a behind-closed-doors inter-county championship is considered most unlikely as the meeting noted that the "appetite" for such a scenario would not be there.

Counties have been advised that it will be October at the earliest before a championship could conceivably be played but that is again hugely dependent on public health conditions.

The publishing of the roadmap last Friday evening gave hope that some activity, exercise and training on a small scale, could take place from May 18, phase one of the easing of restrictions.

But with no guarantees over social distancing being maintained, in line with public health advice, the GAA has adopted a cautious approach, keeping its facilities off limits for now. Insurance will not be restored until at least July 20.

A statement issued on Wednesday evening confirmed the decision, saying that; "The Association will attempt to seek clarity around some of the issues that have arisen in internal discussions since last Friday including the challenge of social distancing in contact sport.

"GAA facilities are to remain closed as part of efforts to prevent gatherings which breach the restrictions.GAA facilities are to remain closed as part of efforts to prevent gatherings which breach the restrictions.

"We are instructing our clubs and counties to continue to adhere to the restrictions and to refrain from organising on-field activity. These measures are expected to remain in place until July 20.

"We will continue to monitor the dates and timelines as revealed by the Government and our arrangements will remain under constant review.

"Our units are reminded that the Player Injury scheme is suspended and will remain so until an official return to action protocol is confirmed.

"The GAA still firmly hopes to be able to play county and club competitions this year, subject of course to public health guidance. We can confirm however that no inter-county games are expected to take place before October."

That will come as a disappointment for many players, underage and adult, who may have harboured the hope, following last Friday's announcement by the Irish Government, that they could at least get going in less than two weeks time.

Phase one of the Government's plan allows for groups up to a limit of four to take exercise in public places, listing pitches, tennis courts and golf courses, from May 18 with small training groups allowed back from June 8, with the provision for social distancing to be made. But that will not now apply to GAA teams and players.

The GAA is to set up a special committee to seek medical advice on a possible route to returning to play.

Shay Bannon, who chairs the GAA's health and safety committee, will chair this advisory group which will also have a number of respected medics including former Dublin manager and player Pat O'Neill, sports physician and former Limerick footballer Jim O'Donovan, Donegal's Kevin Moran, Mayo's Sean Moffatt, chairman of the GAA's Medical Association, on board.

Dick Clerkin, chairman of the GAA's Medical, Welfare and Scientific Committee, Gaelic Players Association chief executive Paul Flynn, GAA president John Horan, Director-General Tom Ryan and director of games administration and player welfare Fergal McGill and Tony McGuinness, Croke Park's event and safety manager will also contribute.

Irish Independent