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Ulster counties gear up for October return to GAA action



Big goal: Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly will be back for the Championship

Big goal: Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly will be back for the Championship

�INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Big goal: Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly will be back for the Championship

The GAA is set to trim its overall championship itinerary for this year because of the coronavirus crisis.

But while the All-Ireland football qualifiers and Super 8s as well as the proposed second tier of the championship series - the Tailteann Cup - are expected to fall by the wayside, it looks likely that the Ulster Championship will take place in October on a straight knock-out basis in tandem with the other provincial championships.

Instead of entering the Super 8s, the four provincial winners are expected to gain direct entry to the All-Ireland semi-finals, which, along with the decider, look set to be held in November.

Stephen McGeehan, the Ulster Council's Head of Operations, confirms that counties have been put in the picture in relation to the proposed schedule.

"Counties have been made aware that matches will be staged on the basis of provincial championships and then progressing into the All-Ireland semi-final stages," he says.

"The belief is that if we get an eight-week window, that would take us from the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship to an All-Ireland final. That would not be too bad at all.

"This is the perceived format as things stand and in line with current thinking, although of course we will always be guided by the Croke Park authorities, the health experts and both governments."

McGeehan, who is Ulster's only representative on the newly-formed Covid-19 Advisory Group which will advise GAA chiefs on matters relating to the return of play protocols and other issues, is also chairman of the Ulster Covid-19 Response Group and has been closely involved in ongoing discussions on restarting the season.

"We are in daily conversations with the leadership team in Croke Park on which our own Ulster Council secretary, Brian McAvoy, sits," explains McGeehan.

"A couple of weeks ago, county boards were asked to set about planning fixtures for their clubs in their different competitions so that, if a potential starting date became known, these could be implemented and as things stand this will happen from July 20.

"I think it is vitally important that we get club games up and running in the community again. It could well turn out that this might be the only thing we are allowed to do but if that proves the case then so be it."

Meanwhile, Down football manager Paddy Tally is urging the GAA to use the current vacuum to reimagine a new way for Gaelic games competitions to be organised.

Tally feels the suspension of activity and the possibility of an inter-county Championship in the winter months proves that tradition can be dispensed with, when it has to be, and that there will never be a better chance to make adjustments.

Tally wants to see the training-to-games ratio for club and county players improve greatly and feels there is no need for an inter-county season to be any longer than four or five months, in line with the NFL in America with games week on week.

Tally said: "The lockdown and suspension of all activity is definitely going to give people food for thought as to how much time is required to run off an inter-county season and how much time is required to run off a club season. This could be the shake-up the GAA has needed.

"The hand has been forced, which is not nice, but if it means the entire fixtures calendar being examined - which is something everyone has been crying out for a long time - that is the big opportunity now. There will never be a better time because people are now conditioned for change and adjustment."

Belfast Telegraph