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McBurney/Declan Bogue

Pictured Declan Bogue

Date: Thursday 12th April 2012

Location: BT Offices

Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Copyright: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Liam McBurney - RAZORPIX


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The uncomfortable truth is keeping players totally safe from coronavirus in GAA setting is impossible

Declan Bogue



Up close: Ronan Corcoran of Ballyhale Shamrocks and Christopher McKaigue of Slaughtneil

Up close: Ronan Corcoran of Ballyhale Shamrocks and Christopher McKaigue of Slaughtneil

�INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Up close: Ronan Corcoran of Ballyhale Shamrocks and Christopher McKaigue of Slaughtneil

I am not sure if you are familiar with the Baroque paintings of the great Caravaggio, but if the GAA could commission any artist from history to capture the chaos of a dressing room, he'd be the first to turn to.


'The Taking Of Christ', commissioned by Roman nobleman Ciriaco Mattei in 1602, is fittingly housed in the National Gallery of Ireland, less than two miles from Croke Park.

In the picture, Judas is kissing Jesus, identifying him to the soldiers who would seize him.

But look closer, and it could be the perfect depiction of any dressing room row up and down the country.

Judas' pleading eyes trying to get through to Jesus, a gifted yet work-shy centre-forward, to track back when he loses the ball. The soldiers a number of team-mates ready to intervene in case it all gets a bit heavy and someone should get split.

All that is missing really are a few bananas on a table and an old moulding bandage that came off a full-back's heel a season or two ago. Best not to dwell on it.

Dressing rooms are odd places. Everything is magnified. I've seen men hit and men hugged in that most unguarded of environments. Lads get up in the middle of a dressing down, pick up their bag and walk out the door, never to return.

I've seen a grown man cry with frustration because the pressure of it all was getting to him, and another crying with pure joy after his under-age team played in a way that reminded him of previous senior sides from decades ago.

You learn a lot about human nature if you stay watchful and observant in such environments - but I realised that too late as I was always more concerned with how to whip up the insults and slagging, the towel-flicking and the idiosyncratic humour.

It is bawdy, it is aggressive, claustrophobic and intimidating. Much like being on a stag do, you can see people regressing into cavemen in front of your very eyes.

It's great fun.

The environment of dressing rooms and Gaelic games bear absolutely no relation to how we need to live our lives right now. It's just so alien to our lived experience. And yet the talk is of 'opening up' and 'getting going' once again.

The chat is of starting with club action, then slowly working up to something of an inter-county County Championship in the autumn. Behind the scenes, discussions have been held at length.

Nothing official, or that people in power would admit, but the various scenarios have been teased out - multiple team buses, independent doctors present, arriving to the game togged out in gear, socially-distanced dressing rooms.

And there's no doubt that if a county board sent a Bat Signal up into sky, there would be enough bulletproof young lads that would take up the call.

In the event of such an arrangement, at some stage a call from an enterprising journalist would be put through to the Gaelic Players' Association asking, 'Are you cool with this?'

Their track record doesn't make for good reading. They can be exceptionally light-touch about these things and tend to make their intervention when the tail of the horse is the only thing left in the stable.

And there's a good chance they might not be inclined to bite the hand that feeds them in the age of 'the new normal'.

The uncomfortable truth is that if a vaccine is not found and widely distributed, then hosting the All-Ireland series would be run off a different set of priorities; namely, satisfying sponsor and broadcasting obligations.

Social distancing and being entirely safe from contracting coronavirus in Gaelic games is utterly impossible. That should be the base line in all these discussions.

Think of the language we use when we talk of individual duels within a game. We talk of a marker being 'in the face' of his opponent, 'not giving him a chance to breathe'.

In hurling, the average number of rucks - when the ball breaks onto the ground and around half a dozen players converge around it to scrap for possession, jostling, bumping, panting and breathing all over each other - is around two dozen per game.

During the 2018 league final between Kilkenny and Tipperary, one such ruck lasted for all of 25 seconds.

Those at risk, those at the very bottom rung, would be the players. Behind television, big business, the demands of managers and coaches, the paid help of doctors, physios, masseurs and all the rest of the support staff.

Now that would not be a good look for an amateur association.

Belfast Telegraph