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The road ahead as GAA aim to finish 2020 in style



Collision course: the clash between Donegal and Tyrone may be moved venue, which may not find favour with the former

Collision course: the clash between Donegal and Tyrone may be moved venue, which may not find favour with the former

�INPHO/Evan Logan

Collision course: the clash between Donegal and Tyrone may be moved venue, which may not find favour with the former

In this job you could become blasé about attending press conferences in Croke Park, but the sight of administrators and media getting giddy in the stuffy heat of the Cusack Suite yesterday morning was a neat display of the optimism that, yes, inter-county Gaelic Games is on its way back.

It's a season like no other, and here we outline for you just what is about to go down after the top table of Tom Ryan (Director-General), John Horan, (GAA President) and Fergal McGill (Director of Player, Club and Games Administration) outlined the roadmap of return.

Q: So, it's coming back?

A: You better believe it. The first ball will be struck in anger on October 17 with the All-Ireland Under-20 football semi-finals. The next day, Round Six of the National Football Leagues and the Division 2A, 2B and 3B hurling league finals will be played.

Q: The leagues are being completed?

A: Oh yes. McGill mentioned that it was their intention to give teams at least two games.

Q: How about club, provincial and All-Ireland series?

A: No, they will not be completed this year, nor is there any chance of rolling them into 2021. Ballyhale Shamrocks and Corofin get another 12 months of being top dogs in the club scene.

Q: So, what's the big news?

A: A few things. For the first time in 20 years, the All-Ireland Football Championship will be a straight knockout competition. All those that have never been keen on the back door and hold their nose at the mere mention of the Super 8s series will get their wish.

It's a return to do-or-die, all on the day, blood and thunder stuff. "Losers get nathin!" as Eamonn Coleman once memorably snarled.

Q: Will home advantage be certain?

A: GAA President Horan has said that: "Venues will be what's suitable to get a reasonable crowd into it and the crowd situation is all dependent on the recommendations we get from the health authorities in terms of what we can put into grounds."

Therefore, it would seem that the game between Donegal and Tyrone will be moved.

The reaction from the Donegal camp will be molten, we expect.

Q: Anything else about venues?

A: Just that chiefs await further developments in the coronavirus pandemic. Nothing will, or should, be set in stone, but they have been looking at Croke Park and under existing health guidelines they would project an attendance of between 25,000-28,000 for an All-Ireland final.

Q: The All-Ireland finals, when are they?

A: The hurling final is slated for December 13, and for the first time the Sam Maguire will be fixed for a Saturday night, December 19. Imagine the sheer novelty of that. Or if it went to penalties...

Q: Hold up. Penalties?

A: Oh, did I not say? Yeah, all the knockout games this year, as well as being 'finish on the day', will have two periods of 10 minutes for extra-time in the event of a draw. If teams are still level at the end of that, it's penalties.

Q: Sure they can't do that?

A: They can, and they have. Of course, the easy thing in a year where the finances were decimated would be to have a replay a fortnight later on the weekend of January 2-3.

But by then we will be back in the thick of Dr McKenna Cup games and, sure, you'd hardly notice it.

Q: I see Conor McKenna had a rough time with his coronavirus test, how will the GAA get around that?

A: They won't, because they won't be taking any responsibility for that. Your trusty reporter was putting it up to the suits in Croke Park, and received the reply: "We're not going down the route of testing. We're not a professional sport. Professional sportspeople live and move in their own groups, their own pods, if you like; we don't. Our people mingle in the community generally so testing is just not a route we'll be going down."

Q: Bit rough that?

A: Maybe. But you cannot insulate amateur players. There are a million things to consider in all of this. The days of team buses are probably gone, hotel stays will become much more expensive and who would like to be the county manager that could put a face on him to ask for a long weekend away for a warm-weather training camp?

Q: What way will the provincial winners match up in the All-Ireland semis?

A: The winner of Connacht will play the Munster champions - but that's only a preamble to the winners of Ulster making acquaintance with whoever should emerge from Leinster, herewith referred to as 'Dublin'.

Q: The Dubs in a one-off game? Wow!

A: Sure this is what managers have been crying out for, a free swing at the greatest of all time. Nothing will be held back. There will be some demand for those tickets.

Q: Any other business?

A: Bits and pieces. The GAA expect Stormont to line up with the Irish government in terms of staging contact sports. The hurling round robins in Leinster and Munster had to be redrawn, as did the lower-level competitions.

There will be no Tailteann Cup this year, and the hurling league final between Limerick and Clare will not be staged - unless they meet in the Championship, in which case the league title will also be up for grabs.

New York will not be featuring in this year's Championship and the participation of the English units (Warwickshire, Lancashire and London) will all be subject to travel restrictions.

Belfast Telegraph