The GAA has decided to suspend all further activity except for inter-county fixtures until further notice on Monday, October 5th. The decision was taken in line with the new Level-3 restrictions that were introduced nationwide until at least October 27th. As a result, training in limited numbers – in pods of up to 15 people for non-contact sports only – can take place for clubs and underage sides.
It has been a difficult few weeks for the GAA who have received much negative press for the lack of social distancing at matches where crowds of up to 200 people have been allowed. Numerous videos have been spread across social media where crowds have been seen gathering in close proximity to each other in the stands, both on the pitch and off it. The images were made all the more striking when photos emerged of football fans at League of Ireland games strictly observing social distancing and many wearing masks in line with government advice.
Sunday, October 4th proved to be the last straw for the GAA. One example that has been doing the rounds on social media is of Blackrock supporters congregating in large numbers after the club ended an 18 year famine to capture the Cork Senior Hurling Championship after defeating Glen Rovers in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Despite a magnificent performance by the Rockies, they were let down off the pitch by supporters who did little to observe social distancing, in fact one video showed people embracing each other and huddling together without any face coverings.
It must be said however that Blackrock are not the only culprits as there have been many other clubs just as culpable, behaviour which the GAA has condemned. As a result they have decided to take action which results in several high profile club games including the Cork Senior Football Championship to be postponed. This is despite calls from the Club Players Association (CPA) to allow the games go ahead behind closed doors. This could perhaps be an alternative option which would satisfy all parties involved but it remains to be seen if this will be permitted. The Cork County Board are hopeful of completing the remaining thirteen games in the remainder of the club calendar.
The GAA also have decisions to make with regards to the return of supporters which looks to be unlikely in the short term due to the recent incidents. They have come out with the IRFU and FAI in support of plans to allow the safe return of a limited number of fans to stadiums. These plans would include the mandatory wearing of face masks of everyone over the age of 13 while reducing social distancing to one metre allowing more fans to attend. These proposals come just a couple of weeks after GAA President John Horan said that it could be possible for up to 30,000 fans to attend the All-Ireland finals in Croke Park if adequate health and social distancing measures were in place. While this may seem unlikely due to the present circumstances, there could be a possibility of up to 5,000 fans being able to attend under the Government’s ‘Living with Covid’ plan.
Regardless of the safe return of crowds, the main message must be to ensure the safe return of play for all within the GAA community which is built upon the participation of all its members and not just at the elite level. It is crucial for the people’s mental health and the overall health of the organisation which now has the chance to re-evaluate and assess its future which like every other sport is uncertain.
Ultimately, there are two sides to every story and this situation is no different. Human nature dictates that every person wants to show affection, embrace and celebrate when something great happens in their life and for every GAA fan, there are few greater thrills in life than witnessing their club triumph. This is a very difficult period for everyone inside and outside the GAA bubble and these next few months could get worse before they get better.
Sometimes it is better to leave the champagne on ice as good things come to those who wait. If we are willing to do that, a fantastic All-Ireland championship could still be ahead of us and could allow the GAA to finish the year with a bang.