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How the risk factor may be big barrier to GAA's relaunch

 

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New outlook: Michael Murphy is putting things into perspective

New outlook: Michael Murphy is putting things into perspective

�INPHO/James Crombie

Michael Briody

Michael Briody

�INPHO/Ryan Byrne

New outlook: Michael Murphy is putting things into perspective

Gaelic football by its very nature is tough, uncompromising and hugely competitive with physical contact inherent in virtually every element of play.

 

It's hardly surprising then that when the possibility of players contracting the coronavirus is also taken into account, the sport is immediately bracketed as high risk.

This being the case, a return to the playing fields remains very much on ice despite the increasing volume of opinion that might favour the resumption of games.

But as other influential voices continue to articulate support for the ongoing playing ban - it is anticipated that club games might resume from July 20 - the GAA could yet find itself on the horns of a dilemma.

The word 'risk' tends to dominate any GAA debate right now but it's the fact that it is being employed by highly-placed individuals in their assessment of the crisis which gives it added resonance.

Dr Mike Ryan is the executive director of the Health Emergencies Programme at the World Health Organisation, and pulled no punches when he declared: "There is no such thing as zero risk. Sporting events, especially large sporting events, represent mass gatherings and bringing those type of high-contact events in particular back on line is going to require some very careful planning."

And Donegal captain Michael Murphy, one of the most high-profile players in the game, acknowledges that along with many other players he has now discovered that football is not the be all and end all of things.

"The current situation has really hit home with me. I always look at my life with football being the be all and end all of it. This is probably one of the occasions in my whole life where I realise that maybe there is something even more important and that indeed is life itself," stated Murphy.

In response to the ongoing speculation surrounding a season relaunch, the GAA yesterday released a statement in which it confirmed that there will be no inter-county Championship action prior to October.

The statement read: "The GAA still firmly hopes to be able to play county and club games 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.

"Counties are asked, in the interests of players, to suspend all inter-county training until further notice. There will be a phased resumption of training at both club and county level to allow players to prepare appropriately for playing games.

"While not categorically ruling out the possible staging of games behind closed doors, there appears to be a lack of appetite for this type of fixture scheduling at the current time across the wider Association."

Club Players' Association chairman Michael Briody, meanwhile, believes that there is a danger that his members could be cast as "guinea pigs" in any return.

"The conversation so far has always been around those attending the games and that steps will be taken to sort out social distancing for the crowd, but who are the guinea pigs? The club players?" queried Briody.

Ulster Council chairman Oliver Galligan, meanwhile, welcomes what he feels will be a phased return to action while insisting that the welfare of players must be paramount.

"It's easy to say we will go back and play games but we have to look at the bigger picture and the well-being of our members and their families. The wider picture is players go home to parents and grandparents and if anything happened we would never live it down as an Association," insisted Galligan.

Gaelic Players' Association chief executive Paul Flynn is a member of a newly-appointed dedicated Covid-19 Advisory Group which will advise the GAA on matters relating to return to play protocols.

Flynn, the holder of five All-Ireland medals with Dublin, is also adopting a safety-first approach.

"We accept that the GAA can't deliver certainty around fixtures at this time. It is a fluid and ever-changing situation," said Flynn.

Belfast Telegraph