Return to action this year is now looking unlikely

Photo: Spencer Hotel

I was wrong about The Sunday Game the other night. The re-run they featured of the 2017 final might have been one to avoid – I certainly couldn’t face its bittersweet pain – but John Horan’s appearance on the show was of some interest.

What the GAA President had to say about the likely timeframe for a return to action after the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic has passed was blunt and to the point. But it needed to be.

He skewered an inconsistency in the the government’s roadmap for reopening society and business, where it talks about team sports resuming in Phase 4 (i.e. from 10th July) but only where the numbers of supporters are limited and where “social distancing can be maintained.”

As the Na Fianna club man pointed out, that is a nonsense. He said:

If social distancing is a priority to deal with this pandemic, I don’t know how we can play a contact sport. That is what Gaelic Games is. It is a contact sport.

He’s right, you know. While in theory you could imagine punters keeping well apart from each other as they look on from the stands you couldn’t expect to see any physical distancing protocols being obeyed in the heat of battle down on the pitch. And, of course, the problem is that if everyone isn’t observing the rules on keeping clear of each other the risks of transmitting the virus increase sharply.

The GAA President made it clear that the safety of members of the Association would have to be put first in any decision on resuming on-field action. Nobody’s health will be put at risk, he stressed, and so no training or matches would be restarting until it was safe to do so.

That begs the question – when will the current strictures on social distancing and all the rest be relaxed? The easy answer is that this won’t happen any time soon, not least given the dangers of a second wave of Covid infections hitting as the current restrictions on work and movement are gradually eased.

Health Minister Simon Harris said last month that social distancing will most likely to have to be maintained until a vaccine is available. When might this be? No earlier than mid-2021, according to this BBC report. Possibly never, says this piece in the Daily Telegraph. Even if a vaccine is discovered, it could be years before it becomes widely available on a global basis, as this piece in the New York Times explains.

So, let’s consider a scenario where the pandemic rumbles on for several more months, maybe even for a few years. Precautionary measures like wearing face masks in public, frequent hand-washing, the avoidance of congregating in large groups and, yes, continuing to observe social distancing, would all have to remain as everyday features of life.

This view of what might lie ahead is, of course, no more than what we’re living with now extended into the future, perhaps the far future. While this new normal persists – including social distancing – it’s one that, according to the GAA President, provides no basis for a safe resumption of GAA matches.

John Horan stated on The Sunday Game that he wasn’t averse to a 2020 Championship getting going late this year and spilling over into the early months of 2021. But he stressed that if a 2020 Championship is to be played at all, it’ll have to at least make a start this year. Otherwise there’ll be no option but to abandon this year’s Championship altogether.

Delayed GAA Championships aren’t unprecedented, although you have to go back nearly a century to encounter the most recent one that wasn’t finished in the same calendar year that it started. Only once since the GAA was founded, however, was there a year in which no Championship was played at all.

That year was 1888. But that’s another story, one I’ll come back to next time with some more details on Championships delayed and unfinished to help put the current hiatus into some proper historical context.

31 thoughts on “Return to action this year is now looking unlikely

  1. On “unfinished “ championships, 1925 deserves the Netflix documentary treatment when Mayo were briefly All Ireland champions only to lose that status and that year’s delayed Connacht final to our near rivals Galway.

  2. I would agree with Horan on the issue of keeping the brakes on until there is no danger to the players.

    I read at the weekend a medical experts views on what is in store for Ireland as regards this virus.

    He was credited with having been awarded the Nobel prize in medicine I believe it said 2013.

    His predictions and models (made some time ago) for China’s eventual number of cases and total death rate have been bang on the money.

    His view for Ireland is that the virus will have largely burned itself out in this country in the next two weeks.

    If he is as accurate with this prediction as he was with China then hopefully we will really have a reason to be more positive, and soon.

    Details of the article address pasted below.

  3. It’s a difficult one for the Gaa .Thought Horan spoke well and it looks to me that there will be no club or county action in 2020 .. it all boils down to social distancing – is it safe to mark/tackle your opposition safely…
    Answer for the foreseeable future is NO .
    The current drop in new cases will still not make it safer as there still is a risk of a player getting infected and possibly then spreading it at home in their own house .Better safe than sorry

  4. There was a time I used to stop by here most days.. but its been two months! cant believe it. So much has gone full circle that I even see the German Bundesliga back on again. Strange decision, it is a contact sport after all with the very occasional bitting, spitting incident mixed in with a whole lot of rolling around on the grass pretending to have suffered the most grievous of injuries 🙂 But why is it back and will the premiership follow suit? Will the Gaa Championship be brought back for the same reasons. I hope not! John Horan was saying all the right things but I think he realises that by the time the go ahead is given here it will be to late anyway to run off even a reduced championship. As much an all as we would all love to see the green and red run out onto the field this year I can see it happening at the minute anyways. There are more important things than sport and any decision on this this needs to be for the right reasons.

  5. Time to end the lockdown in full, maybe the HSE amd Government are being far too cautious, I certainly believe so.
    Lift all restrictions, all shops, pubs open with the proper protocols in place, ie, hand washing upon entry and exit. Some Private Hospitals that were rented/ leased out to the HSE since March have not had ONE single Covid19 patient.
    Start up the Gaa training with testing for all involved on a 2 weekly basis ( if possible).
    I will admit, I agree with the protest held in Castlebar yesterday against the lockdown.
    I must say this, we can do without mass on a weekly basis but don’t think we can do without most Sports.

  6. Mayo88 – ah yes let’s ignore all medical experts advice….no wonder you agree with those protesting in Castlebar

  7. I’d be inclined to totally disagree with you Mayo 88 we’d all like to see the end of lockdown but not at the expense of people dying and suffering from the spread of Covid 19. I wouldn’t be a Leo or FG supporter but I have to say the government are handling the criss very well. I’d settle for seeing Mayo play in the FBD again on January 6 next year if it helps to save lives

  8. @Mayo 88, I was going to reply to your post, but I already had a headache…I agree with Backdoor Sam on this point, Nobody is entitled to put someone else’s life at risk by not following the measures still in place.. However I disagree with Backdoor Sam on his point about the handling of this Crisis from the beginning….In terms of death’s and infections from Covid 19 of Island Nation’s throughout the whole world, Ireland is second highest in both, and only the Island of Britian is worse…In year’s to come, what will we say about those in authority, when with objectivity we look back at this last few months!

  9. @Mayo88 . Are you actually serious. People have died any many more very sick seriously ill .
    My nephew is in ICU . Previous to this he was a fit and healthy 33year old but picked it up through his work in the HSE . Cop on and keep safe !!!! Wont go on or I’ll break house rules .

  10. Leantimes – we’re all GAA fans and think of Ireland in 32 county terms but when it comes to dealing with Covid 19 we are not an island nation.

  11. @Wide Ball, as far as the Covid 19 virus is concerned, we are all on the same Island.. The ‘Virus’ didn’t cross the Sea by itself…. The Border is open, what happens on either side of this Border has equal revalance in terms of the Virus transmission to everyone whatever side of the border you happen to be on….The death rates are very similar to each other… In relation to Covid 19, what happens on the bigger Island to the East, Britian, has no more effect on us in the Republic, than it has on our friends in NI…. Sicily is also an Island, but definitely not a Nation, it’s part of one of the worst affected countries by this Virus in the World, has a similar population to the ROI, at 5Miillion, in Comparison to ourselves at 4.9, ..It’s Island status no doubt helped to contribute a death rate less than 10% of the mainland of Italy per million, .. and 17% of the Death Rate of this Island,..Nation or Not!

  12. MyBall, I really hope your nephew recovers swiftly and I will take one for the team in terms of breaking house rules (sorry WJ).

    Mayo88, you are talking through your arse, and I mean that in the politest way possible. I don’t want my family and my loved ones unnecessarily put at risk, and neither have I sat in this godforsaken house seeing barely anyone for the past eight weeks for this to be abandoned because you think it should be, with no evidence, no expertise and no clue. If the hospitals haven’t been overburdened it’s because most of us have done what we were asked to do and it’s proof that it worked, not that the risk wasn’t there in the first place. And I can’t imagine many players would jump at your suggestion either, nor would their families. Thank christ thinking like yours is firmly in the minority.

    Anyway away from the politics and back to the football … oh wait, there is none. I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch any of the games back on TG4 because really, life is too short for that. It was fairly bittersweet to see the tweets last night expressing shock at how poorJoe McQuillan’s 2013 performance was – and none of them from Mayo people. 2013 for me will always be the one we handed to Dublin on a plate but our cause was not helped by that man. Oh well!

    As for the year ahead despite the many mixed messages coming from various quarters I just can’t see intercounty returning this year, and I hope the clubs are prioritised if there is any action happening. Would be quite happy to be wrong, and also to see the abandonment of the league (can’t imagine why!) but they might want to at least close out the competition.

    Anyway, I hope you are all doing well, or as well as can be. I miss the fun that’s usually kicking off at this time of year, the days out, the meeting people, being able to sit in MacHale Park without wearing six jumpers, the radio and podcasts and just the craic. Take care of yourselves.

  13. @Anne-Marie, I watched the 2013 All Ireland Final yesterday…I have to say first have we should gone in about 5 or 6 points up, but didn’t mostly due to our own waywardness infront of the posts,… Second Half Dublin were the better team.. Overall when you look at it again, two player’s who both had outstanding game’s were the often maglined Robert Hennelly, and his club mate Séamus O Shea..
    Hennelly made some absolutely outrageously good saves, and SOS completely outshone his more famous brother in midfield… And unfortunately the biggest mistake was the taking off of Alan Freeman, monumental error on the sideline!

  14. Okay, Mayo88 – it’s past time to call time on your attempts to turn this place into some kind of political counter-culture debating forum. Either you stop posting politically-laced Covid-related comments or you’re going to have to become reacquainted with the joys of comment moderation. The choice is yours.

  15. have to agree that Freeman was taken off far too early in that game in 2013 and also the wrong O Shea was taken off also. But hindsight is great .

  16. Any views on who was the better midfielder between Liam McHale and Aidan O’Shea?? ,
    In my opinion there our 2 best Midfielders we ever produced in the last 50 years.

  17. Hindsight sure is great Culmore. And yes Seamie put in a huge shift that day.

    I have a few stand-out memories from that day Leantimes. The sinking feeling even in the early minutes when our shooting was so poor. Rob Hennelly’s save against Eoghan O’Gara. Alan Freeman’s expression of disbelief when he was called off – swiftly mirrored by ours in the stand. I couldn’t fathom it then and can’t fathom it now and I doubt he can either! Bernard Brogan’s brilliance. Andy Moran’s brilliance. Jonny Cooper’s black eye after clashing with Andy. The deathly, frustrating silence that fell over the Mayo crowd with ten minutes to go, when Dublin had the momentum but we still had the winning of the game. And the raging hangover I had after a long night before in Bowe’s!

    I hope it won’t be too long again before we get to enjoy another night in a crowded, sweaty, boisterous Bowe’s with the promise of a big day ahead in the morning. That all feels like a lifetime ago now.

  18. TH I would agree with your assessment on Liam Mchale and A O Shea.
    Looking back through the years, AOS has not played that much at midfield for Mayo.Different managers keep moving him around.
    Mchale was very mobile, however I would give the nod to AOS.
    I would add the great WJ Padden to the list.
    People forget that he won 2 All Stars at midfield when there were a lot of other good midfielders around the country.
    TJ Kilgallon, the 2 Mahers, Sean and Greg,
    Pat Harte, Ronan McGarrity weren’t too bad either.

  19. Talk about boisterous crowds I’ll never forget the night before the 2016 all Ireland final out in RTE at up for the match RTE filed us to the gills with cheap plonk before the programs and in fairness looked after us really well after it too in the green room. Such memories this team has given us that one always brings a smile to my face. I’ll never understand either why Freeman was take off or why in 96 Liam McHale was singled out and went off or how Maurice Sheridan’s hamstring went in the 97 final as he was closing in on goal or how on earth did Anthony Larry pull that ball wide in 89 when it almost easier to score a goal. One could be forgiven for believing in curses I don’t think any county has had as much bad luck in finals as we have. They say of course you make your own luck but if we ever get a lucky break in a final I hope I’m alive to see it

  20. Watched the 2013 final and the 2016 replay on Eir sport (RTE practically gave the archive away to Eir Sport for buttons) Anyway the thing that stood out on the 13 team is that 12 starters were still around last year. In all that time only one forward, Doc, has been added to the team. 7 years! That’s a damning statistic. And yes it was there for the taking.

  21. Dooniver I watched 13 game the other day as well and noted that point.. there is a large chunk of that great team well into their 30s now and unfortunately with possibly no action this year it could bring an end for them. I believe up to 7 of them are 32plus now

  22. You know, the break may be a good thing in that it allows players to recover from injuries and maybe regain freshness in the bodies. I wouldn’t write them off at all, we have seen how driven they are, they’ll be back.

  23. The break might be good for young (or youngish) players who were struggling with injury this year. I’d be thinking of James Carr, Matty Ruane, Brendan Harrison and Cillian O’Connor. They no longer need to rush back to make the last league game or whatever.

    It won’t be good for players in their 30s as it will be extremely difficult for them to regain peak fitness after a prolonged period away from intercounty training. We could see a number of muscle injuries when training does resume and older players will be more susceptible.

  24. How things have changed in the last 4 weeks. John Horan announcing when social distance is in operation it is hard to see GAA matches been played. Fast forward things have changed cases and deaths with this virus has been reduced and now the GAA are talking about playing club games in July and inter county in September or October. Let’s hope we keep this virus as low as possible for the next few months it would be a great boost for the country if we have something to look forward to

  25. That’s the truth Kevin. Inter county in September and October? How would that work and would it be to finish the league or a championship of some sort?
    Pierce Hanley is coming to the end of his afl career it seems, 31 years old. Would he jump in with Mayo at this stage for a season or too old? Just a thought.

  26. Going by Horan’s comments and talk of “vaccines” that may never come, we were probably looking at a 2022 return if we were lucky! As expected things have changed massively in the meantime and with sports, schools and business returning worldwide, and numbers dropping hugely and aspects of phases moving forward in Ireland (as well as a widespread understanding that outdoor transmission is relatively low), the GAA were always going to be under the microscope.

    Well according to this article “there is a green light ready to flash for a return to club training activity at the end of June and it will be a welcome sight for GAA people everywhere” and “Club competitions could run from late July”

    Club training back and premier league games most evenings as early as June! As I said in April on this blog at the peak of the virus a few more weeks will make a monstrous difference to public opinion and attitudes and that is exactly what has transpired.

  27. I presume it will be a straight knockout system.Open draw in hurling.Munster winners v runners up in Leinster and Leinster winners v runners up in Munster be the semifinals. In football presume the existing draw will stay the same and winners of each province will go into the semifinals.One issue with the football I definitely think New York will not be included but what about London another thing are all games going to be behind closed doors or reduced capacity as I said above all this is if we can keep the R rate down and this virus does not blow up again but I certainly am more hopeful then what I was 5 to 6 weeks ago.

  28. So from Monday, we can travel anywhere within our own county!
    Well Mayo has always been my county. The fact that I live in Dublin is irrelevant!

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