Delayed return to action on the cards

Photo: The 42 (James Crombie/Inpho)

The fall-out from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic continues to be felt right across society in Ireland and around the world. Needless to say, the GAA is affected in the same way as other sectors and, with Level 5 Covid restrictions now confirmed to remain in place until at least the early days of March, the start of the 2021 inter-county season is set to be pushed back as well.

RTÉ’s Damian Lawlor reported yesterday (here) that the GAA’s Management Committee decided at a virtual meeting this week that no collective training or matches would resume before 5th March, which is the earliest date on which the Level 5 restrictions might be lifted.

RTÉ also reported earlier in the week (here) that county squads are expected to be given four weeks to prepare for competitive action, which would mean a start to the Leagues in late March or early April. The GAA will review the situation after 5th March to see what the 2021 calendar might look like then.

The delay in starting in National League impacts on the Championship, the provincial draws for which haven’t even been held yet. Originally, the split season this year was meant to see the All-Ireland football final being played in mid-July but now it’s likely to be sometime in August before it’s held. That timing, of course, has a knock-on effect on when the club action can get going.

John Fogarty in the Irish Examiner had a handy piece the other day in which he sketched out four different scenarios for the inter-county year, depending on what resumes and when. You’ll find that here.

The Irish Examiner has also reported, by the way, that this year’s provincial Championship draws will “be broadcast by RTÉ over a number of days on the week of February 8.” I’m not sure I follow the logic for doing this but there you go.

This year’s Championship will see the return of the qualifiers but not the by now almost universally disliked Super 8s. Further significant structural change is, however, under active discussion, with two proposals set to be debated at next month’s Congress.

There are pieces of interest on this on the RTÉ website (here) and the Irish Examiner (here). According to RTÉ, the two proposals for change entail the following:

  • A league-based All-Ireland series with a separate provincial Championship, or
  • A provincial Championship structure with four groups of eight teams and the National League format remaining the same.

There are obvious pluses and minuses to both options (the Antrim Chairman was out of the traps rapidly to oppose the second variant outlined above) but it appears from those pieces linked above that there’s fairly strong support for change of some kind.

That makes abundant sense. The structure used up to last year, a Frankenstein monster combination of provincial Championships, qualifiers and Super 8s, was always untenable for the long-term and while the return to the straight knockout format worked for last year it clearly isn’t the answer either.

My own preference would be for a league-based Championship but, as already noted, the two options on the table have their own merits and drawbacks. One thing’s certain, though, and that’s that the proposed new formats are sure to generate plenty of debate. But sure what else have we to be doing in these benighted pandemic times?

22 thoughts on “Delayed return to action on the cards

  1. Might be an idea for the Gaa to cancel the league this year altogether and concentrate on the club championships and then the Provincials and all ireland series if it’s safe to do so. A lot of people stlll dying with Covid and the number of people getting infected still high so better to play it safe for another while in my humble opinion even though it he championship being played last winter was a God send for the nations collective mental health

  2. I think they’ll certainly be more cautious when it comes to any sort of “reopening” this year Backdoorsam.

    Numbers are certainly still very high but we are still seeing knock on effects of the Christmas period – where until the 24th society was operating as close to “normal” as it had since the pandemic began, people were flying into the country in large numbers and not self isolating, added to the circulation of newer more contagious variants, and of course the seasonal element too

    Numbers should start to drop a fair bit in February – we have the R number below 0.1 now, and numbers have come down very much as January has gone on, I’d expect this trend to very much continue – people have nowhere to go and this blasted thing now has much lesser chance to spread in the community

    However I think it’ll be a long time before GAA is given the go ahead. Schools will rightly be the only priority over the next 2 months. We now have newer variants, and the worry is more will come on board that might threaten to bypass the vaccines we have in place.

    I just can’t see the government taking chances this year, and they’ll be (rightly imo) extremely cautious. Now the great thing is the championship was ran very successfully last year and given the coming months should see decreases in overall case numbers and with vaccines now on board and the summer months inevitably going to bring improvement, I can definitely see inter county championship going ahead at some stage – however I think the league will simply have to be severely compressed (or maybe even abandoned as you say), and I think club will be a long, long way away I’m afraid. The risk in playing itself is probably low but my own everlasting memory of last year was celebrations after county finals and maskless crowds brainlessly all sitting on top of each other in massive stands.

    But as you allude to the county stuff was definitely great escapism in November/Dec and hopefully by may/June we’re back in action again (provided it is of course safe to do so, and community transmission is low and the vaccination program is operating as hoped)

  3. I have just read on the sunday world that PAUL GALVIN is contemplating joining the kerry backroom team. i am wondering has he been asked to join the mayo backroom team .i think he would be a wonderful addition to the team .PAUL is a born-winner and he could be the last piece of james horan’s jigsaw.HORAN should contact him and see would he consider joining TEAM MAYO.

  4. Ciaran, yes there were some disappointing scenes during county club championships which should not have happened and the inter county championships were run responsibly by the GAA, we cant ignore that there was also irresponsible behaviour going on particularly around the All Ireland final. Hotels were packed, house parties in full swing for the final, doctors are on record saying the All Ireland final contributed to spike in covid numbers in particular areas of the county.

  5. I’d be hopeful intercounty can start back in March. There is a much smaller number of people involved compared to club activity. With no crowds allowed I think it can be run off safely as it was in November/December.

    The main issue is probably getting some funding from the government. Also for optics if nothing else, schools will have to be back open first.

  6. Optics ? There’s a million kids off school and some are suffering badly in a lot of ways, them going back into school is way more important than gaa and that’s not maybe.
    Did anyone read colm o rourkes article today on the independent ? Well worth a read, he lays out what has happened over the last 20 years and what he thinks is the only path out of it. I’m afraid Colm, you will be waiting for it to happen. In the meantime, let’s see if Westmeath fans take any heed of Mr Connellan.

  7. Forget the club scene , crikey it was ridiculous last year . Far too many people involved in the club scene with all the grades included. County stuff far more favourable in that context but like I’ve asked before how many years can it last without crowds , next year , year after . No mention of a complete return to normality anywhere even in the distant future . Grim times .

  8. Club will go ahead assuming numbers drop off as more and more of the population get vaccinated but it will be September before any championship starts in my opinion. The rate of infection and mutations means is spreads much faster and more easily than last summer so no chances can be taken.

    The NFL will be scrapped, I just can’t see how they will fit it in now.

  9. @Yewtree. Agree scrap the league. Hopefully they make a call on the club seen in March or April.

  10. Don’t see why the league should be scrapped. It’s the main competition for a lot of counties. League of Ireland soccer is kicking off on 19th March so no reason intercounty can’t follow shortly after.

  11. Ciaran,
    The government will not be taking chances???
    What on earth gave you that idea? They seem to be willing to take a chance on all arrivals into the country being willing to self isolate and take a Covid test. They took a chance that Christmas holiday makers coming from England would not bring the English variant with them and we know where that got us. They are in no hurry to make quarantine and Covid tests compulsory. Can’t interfere with politician’s time off, etc. The border with NI has to be treated with great reverence regardless of anything else. Yet in 2001 and the Foot and Mouth disease they had no problem saturating it with Gardai and other Dept officials. I recall it as I was then living beside it.

  12. @AndyD, you are 100% right in everything you say…. In addition despite it now being more than 11 months since the first confirmed case in Ireland, …. It’s not even mandatory to self isolate or quarantine even if you test positive in Ireland, and the same coming into Ireland… It’s not the law and cannot be enforced, you could decide to stay with your 90 year old grandparents for the weekend after testing positive and it’s not even against the law, and cannot be enforced.. they are allot sharper giving themselves payrises.. At a cabinet meeting last Tuesday week, the government were thinking about the few half measures, and nothing concrete has still happened since..Always a convenient excuse, like the border in Ireland, but other countries seem to find solutions for example..One of the longest borders in Europe is the one between two very similar Scandivanian Countries, Sweden and Norway… Norway Politicans took a vastly different route than their neighbors, and per Capita, 11 people have died from Covid in Sweden, for every one person who died from Covid in Norway… Plenty of waffle from Politicans here about how things aren’t possible in Ireland that seem to be very possible in other countries.

  13. Beginning to look like a politics forum here.

    All I’ll say is that if people need the law to tell them how to apply common sense to prevent the spread of a deadly pandemic then society in its current form is doomed. People need to start learning that they have responsibility for their own actions and expecting the government to act as their Nanny is incredibly naive in this day and age.

  14. Well said FDB, people need to take personal responsibility and not require laws to do whats sensible. Problem is commons sense isn’t all that common these days.

  15. @FBD and Mayomad, it’s hardly those living and unfortunately dieing alone in Nursing Homes that’s breaching Public Health regulations.. There is definitely need for common sense in Society, but for those who willingly or ignorantly breaking the common sense rules, there needs to be enforcement… but we don’t even have have the laws to enforce the half measures the government half consider….. And all discussion and debate about all of our cherished Gaelic Games, will remain a memory of the past or an aspiration for a brighter future, until all the people miraculously ‘devloped common sense’ or until they are compelled to act responsibly by the enforced law.. Commiserations to the families and friends of the 5K+ people who have unnessarly died from Covid 19 on this sparcly populated Island! RIP.

  16. Leantimes – while I don’t doubt the genuine concerns you’ve expressed in relation to Covid, I’m going to have to ask you to find somewhere else to ventilate these concerns. It’s best keep the discussion happening here on the football (and hurling). To the extent that Covid impacts on the scheduling and playing matches, competition structures and timelines etc., then it’s worthy of debate here but only in that context. The wider issues around Covid and how it’s being handled from a public health perspective aren’t of relevance to the debate that happens here on the blog. Indeed, I know many people come on here to get away from wider discussion on the pandemic and I’d like to keep it that way.

  17. @Willie Joe, I understand your point of view and of course you are right, people do need to get away from the wider discussion about the Pandemic… Like everyone else I hope that the public health situation improves and that we will have an upcoming Match, be it Club, County in hurling or football to discuss.

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