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GAA's planned return dates are all subject to progress of pandemic, says President

 

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Way we were: Donegal on way to victory over Cavan with Hugh McFadden in control in last year's Ulster Final in Clones

Way we were: Donegal on way to victory over Cavan with Hugh McFadden in control in last year's Ulster Final in Clones

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Dublin's David Byrne lifts the Sam Maguire at Croke Park last September after beating Kerry to make it five titles in a row

Dublin's David Byrne lifts the Sam Maguire at Croke Park last September after beating Kerry to make it five titles in a row

�INPHO/James Crombie

Way we were: Donegal on way to victory over Cavan with Hugh McFadden in control in last year's Ulster Final in Clones

While the GAA is planning a cautious move back into full action, any fluctuation with the coronavirus Reproduction Number could see significant scaling back.

The Association operates on a 32 county All-Ireland basis, but GAA President John Horan moved to allay fears locally, given that the R Number is higher in Northern Ireland, with a full-blown return to club action planned for the weekend of July 31.

"Obviously the R number is key to all of this and it is lower in the 26 counties. But it is moving in a more positive direction than before and the actual playing of the games, I think that will be moving in the positive direction," said Horan in a video call with GAA correspondents last night.

"If it doesn't and that becomes a problem and it moves in the wrong direction in either jurisdiction then, obviously, we would have to review it."

Non-contact training for club teams is scheduled to begin on June 29, initially in groups of no more than 10 players with two coaches.

Thereafter, full-contact training will be back by July 20, with underage games commencing on the same date.

Dr Kevin Moran, the Donegal team doctor who sat on the GAA's Covid-19 Advisory Committee, was asked about potential clusters of infection among communities and clubs, stating: "In relation to R numbers, I wouldn't envisage the GAA making decisions on the basis of R numbers, those decisions will be made by public health.

"And should there be a cluster within a club, then the appropriate health authority in either jurisdiction will make the correct decision for everybody in that club and give advice with regard to the surrounding areas as well.

"These are areas that will be for public health to decide, not for the GAA."

Asked how Gaelic games could take place in a society where social distancing is rapidly becoming an accepted element of modern life - this will be shattered completely with the reintroduction of full contact training on July 20 - Dr Moran explained: "If social distancing remains two metres, then there cannot be contact. I don't believe it is possible to have contact training.

"However, the trend over the last few weeks is that the R value was decreased, our intensive care and hospitals are almost empty of Covid patients and the mortality rate has decreased dramatically.

"All the indications are that over the next few weeks the situation will settle. If we look at the way the pandemic has evolved in Europe and here at home, the pandemic has been brought under control in most parts of Europe. The second wave that everyone was worried about has not happened but may well yet happen and there is no place for complacency."

He added: "The studies we have looked at internationally will also suggest that the virus is weakening, so we hope that… it will be step by step.

"If the first step goes well, players going back to training with two metres of distancing… then we would be able to progress to contact training.

"But there are no absolute guarantees about anything. This is a fluid situation, it is still evolving."

The GAA roadmap for a return has club activity, with county players, wrapping up on October 11 with inter-county competitions commencing on October 17.

County managers will be instructed that they are not to host collective training until September 14. Anecdotal evidence holds that many have made inroads on that already.

Fergal McGill, Director of Club, Player and Games Administration, commented on the short timeframe, saying: "I think it's practical. I don't expect managers to be happy, far from it, but that's a very different thing to whether it is practical or not."

He added: "As I mentioned earlier, there is a cake here that has to be divided among a massive amount of participants.

"The overwhelming body of participants are club players so I think on any terms if you are given a full month to prepare a team, that's plenty.

"We would love to be able to give inter-county team managers more, we would love to be able to give the club more. It is just not possible in the constraints.

"I know we had a couple of team doctors in our group. We didn't just pluck a date out of the air."

Director-General Tom Ryan added that the Gaelic Players' Association would not be expected to raise any objections.

"Paul Flynn (CEO of the GPA) joined us on the advisory group, looking specifically at training, and contributed fully to the discussions. It's fair to say the views of county players have been represented," he added.

Belfast Telegraph