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Why behind closed doors plan can't work for GAA: Pete McGrath

 

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Health concerns: Pete McGrath says the GAA campaign may need to be written off in the interest of public safety

Health concerns: Pete McGrath says the GAA campaign may need to be written off in the interest of public safety

©INPHO/Lorraine OÕSullivan

GAA President John Horan

GAA President John Horan

�INPHO/Tom O'Hanlon

Health concerns: Pete McGrath says the GAA campaign may need to be written off in the interest of public safety

Former All-Ireland winning Down manager Pete McGrath has expressed his opposition towards the suggestion of a programme of inter-county games being played behind closed doors.

 

McGrath, who is in his second season of managing his home club Rostrevor St Bronagh's, is missing his involvement in teams, which stretches back 43 years now.

However, he is opposed to the plan reportedly under consideration by the Irish Government's Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to hosting intercounty games behind closed doors, with an extensive testing system of 2,000 people on a regular basis.

It's another development that appears to have caught the GAA themselves unawares and flies directly in contradiction with sentiments expressed by Health Minister Simon Harris seven days ago.

However, McGrath speaks for many when he points out how rooted players are within their communities and the difficulty of achieving such a plan.

"I know we are reading and hearing about what is going to happen with the Premiership in England, it is going to be played behind closed doors, and again that could be possible given they can take players away to camps and they can quarantine them and test them over a period of time," said McGrath.

"So if a game is going to take place between Liverpool and Sheffield United or whoever behind closed doors, all the players and officials are cleared, they have been in camp. And after the matches are over there would still be quarantine, so they would be of no risk to other people.

"You can't do that with Gaelic footballers and to have 25, 30 players in a changing room after a match, sweating, coughing, as you get after any game in a changing room, it would just be a breeding ground for people going out there.

"It might be that the players could be healthy enough to withstand it, but then they could spread it on to other members of their families who are not in such a robust state of health.

"There are too many unknown variables there."

While the Irish Government's messages - or at least the leaks - appear mixed, there seems to be no sense that the GAA are being appraised of plans.

Speaking on the Today Sean O'Rourke Radio Show, GAA President John Horan stated he was "shocked" to hear of plans, adding: "At no stage have we discussed the return of intercounty training, with any Government department… I'm aghast as to where this has come from."

Horan said that he "can't see contact sport coming back in the short term" and the association, "will continue to take its guidance from the health authorities."

The GAA may be a 32-county organisation, but it would appear there is no chance of games or activity resuming in Northern Ireland even if the British Government and/or Stormont Executive were prepared to relax the restrictions on movement.

Over the past week, we have seen other sporting worlds inch closer to a comeback. Golf will be back in some guise and other individual disciplines are making tentative approaches at returning.

However, contact sports, particularly one performed in such close quarters as Gaelic football, represents a different challenge, as outlined by McGrath.

"You can't use players as guinea pigs and you can't put one single player or one single player's family at risk to get a match played behind closed doors. It would be highly irresponsible," he said.

"I am not so sure where this is going. I just don't know because I am not an expert. But all the soundings you hear, it would seem that football, played behind closed doors or in any situation, can't happen until the people in charge are absolutely certain that it poses no risk.

"People speculating and people throwing out dates, that is OK because I suppose we all need something to hope for and hope towards, but somewhere down along the line there is going to have to be a decision taken where they say, 'look, maybe this calendar year we have just got to write it off.'"

He continued: "If they can postpone the Olympics, which is the biggest sporting event in the world, I think Gaelic games when you look at us in the context of the Olympic Games, we are pretty small fry in a small country.

"OK, the GAA might stand to lose x amount of millions of pounds, but damn it, money isn't everything. We can cope. The GAA has been in debt before. We can always get out of it.

"I think the important thing is that there is nothing done that is going to risk people's health and wellbeing."

Belfast Telegraph