Mixed Opinions Over Winter Championships

10 December 2017; A general view of McGovern Park following postponement of the AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Quarter-Final match between Fulham Irish and Corofin in Ruislip, England. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The GAA has announced that it ‘firmly hopes’ for the championships to be played in 2020. But have also noted a return to action is not likely until before October. The Irish governments 5 step plan for reopening the country has given fans and players alike the hope of a return by the 20th of July. How likely is this to work? And what changes will be needed to get this to work?

With many other sports associations considering a return without fans is this something that could work for Gaelic football and hurling alike? A statement from the GAA stated “while not categorically ruling out the possible staging of games behind closed doors later in the year, there appears to be a lack of appetite for this type of fixture-scheduling at the current time”. The GAA have also confirmed that no inter-county games are expected to take place before October. 

Tony Kelly

Clare hurler Tony Kelly says he relishes the prospect of a winter championship. “It wouldn’t bother me” he said, “I’m just mad to be back playing”. While many top tier players can maintain a fitness regime at home, he realises that not everyone can. He is hopeful that pitches can be opened soon whilst following social distancing guidelines. “It’s an outlet for most people, you’d often see young lads pucking on the wall while passing my own GAA field. I suppose they’re maybe afraid people will flock to the field,” said Kelly. 

Sport is a pivotal aspect of life for all, but for many villages and parishes around the country, they haven’t got much else. ” We have a pub and that’s closed, and two shops” he exclaimed. “Other than that, it’s the GAA field”. “Hopefully, they haven’t too long to wait and they’ll be out in the field again”.

Alternative options for the GAA

A special GAA Congress granted them emergency powers to alter the structure of the championship for 2020. Given the narrow window to play the All-Irelands one idea thrown around is to return to a straight knockout format. Kerry’s Stephen O’Brien is all for it. ” It would be a throwback to old times, before the qualifier system”, said Stephen. “Coming off of a long lay-off, it’s going to be impossible to even pick a team”, he noted ” but if given enough time to prepare it would be a hugely exciting thing going back to straight knockout”.

He did however recognise that it would be tough to take. “How could you be in absolute championship shape with no preparation? If it doesn’t go your way it would be difficult to take”. That is the argument against the idea. Would there be uproar amongst players and fans? Would everyone be accepting of it? We do not know, but it’s not possible to please everyone, and many agree with O’Brien’s view that “it’s still better than not playing football”.

Should the Allianz Leagues be completed?

Stephen O’Brien made clear that teams must have time to play challenge games in preparation before the championships resume. But what does that mean for league games? With two rounds remaining, should these games be played before a possible straight knockout championship? Many believe that the thought of even the championship going ahead is too outlandish. Mayo’s Lee Keegan said “I can’t foresee much at the moment. It seems all doom and gloom at the moment because nobody really knows. I know there’s talk of restrictions maybe being lifted, I don’t know if that’s going to be a big lift”.

Although continuing his preparations for the return to football, he claims the lack of a target for a return date is affecting his motivation. “I’m lucky enough to have pitches within 2 kilometres from my home”. I also have a bit of a homemade gym at home” but he finds that its “hard to motivate yourself to do these sessions”. 

Will players refuse to play?

It’s also a worry that if games do return, many players will opt out of playing. “That’s going to be one of the biggest questions the GAA are going to come out with. Are players comfortable enough going back, putting their health at risk to play this game. If people are working, they have to think of their day-to-day job as well”, stated Keegan. 

Many questions are left to be asked but not many can be answered now. We all have some waiting to do before we have any definite answers. 

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