SO, what happens now? That was a question all GAA players, managers and fans were asking after the news broke that there won’t be any GAA activity until April, at the earliest.
This is a blow for club players right across the country who are itching to get back out on the pitch again, but given the current restrictions, and because inter-county GAA activity is not covered under the current Level 5 exemptions for elite sports, it means we don’t know when we’re likely to see GAA action resume.
So, what happens now? An inter-county season before the club equivalent or vice-versa? What can players do in the interim? The Southern Star asked five Carbery club senior managers for their opinions.
Declan Hayes (Carbery Rangers): ‘My first reaction to the GAA’s latest announcement was the same as everyone else’s, just disappointment really. We were hoping to be back out on a pitch by St Patrick’s Day but now it’s not going to be until after Easter, at the earliest, before that is likely to happen.
‘It’s terribly disappointing as lads have been training away on their own and looking forward to getting back together as a squad. Players are craving normality more than anything else.
‘You can adapt whatever strength and conditioning programme the players are on but from Carbery Rangers’ point of view, our season ended earlier than we wanted last year. We are behind other clubs that played later into the season. Like most clubs, we have a lot of work to do as a group out on the pitch. Now, the amount of time we will get has been lessened because of the lockdown extension.
‘I wouldn’t mind playing inter-county first as long as the two (inter-county and club) are kept separate. Starting with inter-county means roughly 80 players, football and hurling, travelling to training and games whereas opening up clubs would result in hundreds of adult and underage players descending on our pitches. To me, it makes more sense to start inter-county first as that would be easier to control and less people meeting in big groups.’
Martin Bohane (O’Donovan Rossa): ‘As a manager, because the season has already been shortened, I’d prefer to play the club championships first. It is not fair on inter-county players as they get pulled in different directions every year. To me, the fairest thing would be to play club first and then inter-county. They (inter-county) have access to the best pitches so can play their championships later in the year.
‘There are rumours that the (club) league divisions will be split this year. That means you might only have four or five games leading in to a championship. Personally, I’d rather have ten league games to play as you need them to develop players. Unfortunately, in the current scenario, I’d say five league games is the best anyone can hope for. We have spoken to our strength and conditioning coach and, for now, all we can do is maintain the current programmes our players are on for the time being. There is no point in overdoing things because you don’t want players getting browned off either. Hopefully, we will get back on the pitch sooner rather than later.’
James McCarthy (Castlehaven): ‘The GAA’s latest announcement doesn’t make a whole pile of difference to us right now, as such, except for our (2020) county final. That game will be there whenever it is ready to be played, that’s not the issue. Like every other club, we are just preparing our players as best we can while they are on their own for whenever things start up again.
‘To be honest, I think the latest restrictions are going to have a much bigger effect on the GAA’s underage population more than anyone else. There is a much more serious issue with kids not being able to go out on a GAA pitch. I’m not talking about training, I’m talking about kids being allowed go to a pitch, with their parents or a couple of friends, in a controlled, safe environment.
‘I believe the pitches should be reopened once kids go back to school. Again, not training in large groups, but just being able to kick a ball in the fresh air. I am seeing it first-hand myself, there is a serious problem growing with kids’ mental health. It has been a tough January for everyone and the lockdown extension is making it even harder for people, especially young people.’
JJ Deasy (Clonakilty LGFA): ‘Clonakilty were hoping to return to training in March so it is disappointing, but more so on the inter-county front. The LGFA managed the inter-county championships very well last year so that’s why I believe they could have continued in a safe manner despite the current restrictions.
‘The LGFA showed they are competent when it came to managing the elite competitions during the 2020 lockdowns. Having live matches on TG4 and on-line was a huge boost for people while they were at home last year.
‘That’s why I’d be in favour of the LGFA inter-county championship going first. We have one elite Cork team that we tell all our younger players to aspire to. I think they need to be put out front and centre and given the best chance of winning an All-Ireland. Clubs can work away in the background, as we normally do, until the championship comes around.
‘I’d like to be given a club window at the end of the year, when our inter-county players are free to focus on their club, because I believe that would benefit Clonakilty and the (club) football championships.’
Declan O’Dwyer (Dohenys): ‘I would be in favour of the club championship being played after the inter-county is finished. That’s because Dohenys and all the other clubs would know their designated start date for the club championships.
‘As things stand right now, we could be asked to start in a matter of weeks if inter-county is pushed back to later in the year. That would give clubs little preparation time together as squads. To be honest though, I expect the inter-county will be run off first.
‘Dohenys players were working individual programmes with a view to returning to playing at the beginning March. Now things have been pushed back and we don’t even have a start date. At least, if we had that, you could tell the lads take a couple of weeks off, restart with a new programme and build towards the league which is hugely important for Dohenys this year.’