With the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions across Ireland, the question on every sports fans lips has been when will sport return in the country permanently. The main governing bodies have given various dates and rough ideas about how and when sport will return in Ireland before the end of 2020 including some plans which have been hotly debated within the community.
The absence of both club and intercounty GAA has perhaps hurt certain communities more than the lack of any other sport in the country. Not even pitches have been allowed to open up and down the country during the lockdown period.
However, there is, at last, a coherent plan for a return of Gaelic Games as the ‘return to play roadmap’ was realized earlier in the month. This outlined the various stages in a gradual return to both club and intercounty football.
It indicates that pitches will finally open on June 29th this will likely allow for small groups of around 10 to train while observing social distancing and any other government requirements. Then on July 20th full club training can resume in preparation for the hopeful return of all club and youth competitions on July the 29th these games will be the first to be played in Ireland since the end of the League intercounty season in early March.
Then in September intercounty football will hopefully be taking the spotlight with a penned in return to training on the 14th of September and finally in late October there in the possibility of the intercounty championship finally taking place likely however this will be behind closed doors.
However, it is pivotal to point out that these rough dates are entirely dependent on the medical advice available at the time and could be changed on a day to day basis.
League of Ireland fans and players of the grassroots game will be eagerly awaiting the go-ahead for a return of soccer to Irish pitches. With leagues across Europe gradually returning League of Ireland fans will be looking on enviously awaiting their teams return to play.
Whilst there is no date that is set in stone for a resumption of league action in Ireland the FAI is said to have held talks that have been productive with each of the clubs in the league.
Despite the lack of any foreseeable league action, there is serious hope of a 4 team European football tournament taking place featuring Derry City, Shamrock Rovers, and Bohemians by the end of the summer. These 4 clubs have had players and staff tested and there has yet to be a positive test giving a chance of an Irish football return in the summer at some point.
There has been little talk of when the grassroots game may eventually return around the country however a group in the FAI has been formed to create a return plan.
Rugby in Ireland completely halted in mid-March and there has been much anticipation for a possible return to action by the end of the year. The IRFU has now released plans of a return to play within 2020.
In August there have been plans for the 4 provinces to play in a behind closed doors tournament in Dublin as professional Rugby is given the precedent over the amateur game.
The club rugby game is penned in to return in September however there has been no specific date given as everything is under constant review from the governing bodies. The IRFU has also said the 5 weeks will have to be given for full contact training prior to any competitive games being played.
Clubs have been advised to appoint specific COVID 19 safety officers before training restarts and to complete a thorough health and safety plan to display exactly how a club will function while observing government restrictions.
The International game has also been in the spotlight as it is the real money maker for the various clubs and without a return of the Ireland team in 2020, the IRFU could be set to lose out on over 20 million Euros which would have a severely detrimental impact on the 217 clubs in Ireland.
The return of sport in Ireland will be a great milestone of how far we have battled through the corona pandemic. In April the resumption of competition in the nearby future would be inconceivable but thanks to the hard work of frontline workers and the willingness of the public the comply with government restrictions sport look very likely to resume in some sense before the end of the year in Ireland.