Taoiseach Leo Varadkar caused a bit of a stir on Friday night when he suggested to Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy that “there is a possibility of an All-Ireland played behind closed doors” sometime this year.
That neither man would know the Canal End from The Hill in Clones has not gone without notice by those who know their sport.
Of far more interest to the fans -- and to the followers of every other team sport in the country to be fair -- was the announcement hours earlier on Friday evening of the government’s roadmap for a return to sporting activities, a roadmap that is both informative and unfathomable in equal measure.
Golfers and tennis players can, for example, return to their sport from May 18, but only if they reside within five kilometers of their chosen golf or tennis club and are what the government is now calling “established” members. Rathdowney Golf Club in Laois told Philip Reid of The Irish Times on Monday that they only have three members living within that five-kilometer zone.
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They are not alone. And the GAA is little better as their members, like those involved with soccer and rugby, try to work exactly where and when they fit into a government roadmap that allows some training from May 18, a partial return to action from July 20 and a full return for team sports from August 10, provided Department of Health protocols on social distancing can be observed.
The fact that the department has left those protocols open-ended for now, pending medical updates, only adds to the sense of confusion, with October the most realistic date for some sort of a championship in Gaelic football and hurling according to reports on Monday.
In the meantime, everyone will wonder what is going to happen next and nobody knows for sure, with the legendary Clare hurler and current Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald, for one, urging caution as Covid-19 continues to dominate Irish life.
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“Okay, we got the roadmap the other night, but I’d prefer to leave it a month, or so before we make any decisions on different things,” Fitzgerald told Jacqui Hurley on RTE’s Sunday Sports show.
“We’re at a transmission rate of between 0.5 and 0.8. If we can get it under 0.5, and we really do our job that we’ve been asked to do over the last number of months, we can see where that brings us and what the story is.
“You’d have to be careful. People are going into work that has to go into work, and they could catch it. I don’t know what the outcome will be in the next two or three months. The health of everyone is very important. My parents, thankfully, are alive and well, and you want to see them stay that way.”
Yet to venture outside his native Clare, Fitzgerald has no date in mind for a return to training for his Wexford panel never mind a return to action. If that has to be behind closed doors, then so be it for the All-Ireland hero.
“If there was no other alternative, certainly playing behind closed doors would be okay,” he added. “Is there a small risk? There would be. Naturally, I’d like to see more about what way they’d go about it, and what safety precautions would be put in place.
“That’s just my choice. Players might be different, or other managers might be different, I don’t know, and I’d certainly respect anyone’s point of view on what they think.
“If a player said to me tomorrow that he didn’t want to be part of it for whatever reason, I’d totally understand that. We all have to make our own choices but it is getting tough.
“I would have found the last week or two a struggle. You try to get in the best shape you can -- do your work, do your exercise, keep your mind busy as much as you possible.
“But there’s only so much of that you can do. Trust me, it’s tough. And this virus could be around for a while to come. What way are we going to approach it, to live with it? So there still is a lot of thought to be put into everything.”
Varadkar wasn’t the only man talking GAA on Friday’s Late Late Show, with several players past and present on hand to talk about the Do it for Dan fundraiser that has raised over €2 million to get one-year-old Laois tot Dan Donoher life-saving treatment in America.
Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea and his old Kerry rival Kieran Donaghy were both on the show and both spoke about the fixture predicament facing the GAA, with O’Shea keen for club games to get the green light ahead of inter-county matches.
O’Shea said, “This is an opportunity for the GAA to build back up from the club. If we have a Championship this year, wonderful, if not, we have to move on to 2021 but get back to the club scene, get club games going. That would be massive for everyone.
“We are in a bit of a vacuum at the moment. It would be good from a player’s perspective if the GAA came out and gave us some sort of timeline because that is the difficulty for inter-county players at the moment.
“Everybody is desperate for sport to be back in some shape or form. We all miss it dearly but there are bigger things at stake. From a player’s perspective, especially the inter-county game they are going to have to consult players,” he said.
“Whether they want to play behind closed doors, whether they want to come together in a dressing room. What happens if a player gets Covid-19, what happens to a team? All those questions are left unanswered.
“People are desperate for sport but I think the club scene is more realistic right now so that’s probably closer on the horizon, that’s where the focus should be.”
All-Ireland winner Donaghy added, “I’d prefer them to hold it a month or two or three to play a proper Championship where people could go to the games, even with smaller crowds.”
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