GAA still hoping to run off inter-county league and championship after removal of Level 5 exemption

IN THE WAKE of the news that there will be no GAA activity until Easter at the earliest, the Association have said it remains their intention to complete the inter-county league and championship in 2021.

It was confirmed last night that inter-county competitions are no longer covered under the Level 5 exemptions for elite sport.

The GAA’s director of communications Alan Milton said they may have to get creative when it comes to the structure of competitions, but for the moment no decision has been made on how things will proceed.

“It was obviously a disappointment because we’re in such a long period of inactivity,” Milton told RTÉ Radio 1′s Morning Ireland.

“It’s now obvious to everybody that the emption we got last winter to proceed with the GAA inter-county championships was exactly that – an exemption. While it was welcome and the championships went off really well, I think the government are dealing with a different scenario at the moment in terms of different strains and the rates out there.

“We’re just going to have to knuckle down and try show some of the flexibility that we showed in 2020 facing into 2021.

“It’s nothing different to what we had to deal with last year,” he continued.

“You might remember the frenzy we had to in March and April last year when every day we were asked what our competitions were going to look like.

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“We couldn’t answer it then and we can’t answer it now. But what we did show last year was that if you scenario plan well enough, you can react quickly and it can bring the wider membership with you.

“This can work and we’re very confident it will this year. We haven’t made any hard and fast decisions in relation to how the championships and leagues will proceed, but as things stand we definitely aim to run both off.

“Whether or not we’ve to reach a tipping point in the season when we have to look at redrafting the competitions or perhaps flipping things remains to be seen. But I think we’ve got to hold our powder until Easter comes and at the start of April hopefully the figures will have not only stabilised but decreased and may allow for some wiggle room with the government in terms of relaxing restrictions.

“The GAA has tried to play its part from day one, we’ll continue to liaise with the government and we’ll take their lead. We’ve got to get as creative as we got last year when it comes to scenario planning to make sure we can make the most of 2021 and we’re adamant we’ll do our utmost to do exactly that.”

In relation to club and underage teams, Milton said the GAA will push for a return to collective non-contact training in pods when schools reopen, while the updated Living with Covid document “may give us some insights as to what might be possible.”

He continued, “I think it’s important also that we don’t just focus on the inter-county game, there’s hundreds of thousands of club players out there, not to mention the young players who are without schooling at the moment.

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“So anything we might be able to do to get back in a non-contact even in pods situation would be hugely welcome for society and across the community, not just for the GAA.

“We simply don’t have any insights but you can rest assured as an organisation we’ll be pushing for it if the government are happy it can be done safely. We took our lead from the schools last March.

“Once the schools were out as an organisation we felt we couldn’t stand over collective training. If the schools are to return even on a phased basis you’d like to think that conversation would at least start. 

“We’re in regular contact with the government and if we see an opportunity to pursue that conversation we’ll definitely do that. Because we all know the tangible benefits it had for society and especially for the mental health of young people.”

While inter-county GAA is no longer permitted to take place under Level 5 restrictions, League of Ireland sides, the Ireland Women’s Rugby team and Olympians can continue to train and compete.

“We can’t bubble our players, they are amateur sportspeople,” said Milton. “They float around in the community after they train and play. There may well be an international dimension to those codes, at least in the case of soccer, that is different to us.

“But I’d like to think the GAA showed how it could run its competitions last year and as soon as its possible to get back up and running we’ll be allowed to do so.” 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin explained that the decision to no longer permit inter-county GAA to take place under Level 5 restrictions was to “keep activity levels low in society more generally in terms of mobility and the potential for the spread of the disease.”

He continued, “Close contact testing has come back in in the last week. The positivity rate among close contacts is at 22%. Prior to this wave it would have been at around 10% or 11% so that gives an illustration of the transmitability of this variant and its impact.

“Hospitalisation, even though it’s coming down, the number of people in hospital is still well over 20% of the peak last April. We have to keep these figures in context as we slowly move out of the very stringent restrictions that we’re currently experiencing. 

“We think inter-county sport made a difference both in soccer and GAA. There’s a balance there in terms of the mental health of people and quality of life.  

“We will be looking at it in context of the plan that is being revisited by us currently. We will look at sport more generally.”

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