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Inter-county training return on September 14 with October 17 season throw-in


RETURN TO PLAY: GAA President John Horan. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

RETURN TO PLAY: GAA President John Horan. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

RETURN TO PLAY: GAA President John Horan. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

The GAA has unveiled its 'return to activity' plan, prioritising safety of its members as it balances with getting back up and running. Here are some of the relevant questions, answers and talking points to arise from the document. 

What are the key dates for the GAA?

From next Monday, June 8, designated walkways around clubs open. From June 29, all teams can recommence non-contact training in groups of 10 maximum with two coaches. From July 20, contact training can resume with an 11-day run before club competitions, adult and juvenile, get the green light from Friday, July 31 until Sunday, October 11. For inter-county teams, training has been officially set aside until September 14 with inter-county competitions restarted on Saturday, October 17 at the earliest.

So there will be inter-county championship games that weekend?

Not necessarily. The GAA's director of games Feargal McGill has indicated that, for now, the intention is still to play the remaining rounds of the football league, especially games relevant to promotion and relegation and promotion/relegation play-offs in hurling, and these could possibly take place over the last few weekends in October. GAA president John Horan has suggested that a championship could still be completed up to February 2021 but more likely in January 2021 with semi-finals and finals. The return to activity plan did not outline competition formats and a straight knockout, based on the current provincial draws, is most likely. But the GPA and county teams are likely to seek a back-door solution to offer more than one game. Any decision will be conveyed prior to phase three.

What about crowds attending?

The GAA have again reaffirmed a desire to have crowds, Tom Ryan stating there was "no appetite" for behind-closed-doors games. By then the terms around large gatherings may have changed. Croke Park has been 'profiled' for social distancing, giving it a capacity of 20,500. It's expected it would take the highest number of games with Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Semple Stadium also suitable for the constraints.

Elite athletes in 21 sports can meet from Monday in groups of 15 to train. Why didn't the GAA avail of this?

With a preference to begin with club activity first, the GAA sees no need for inter-county activity at this stage. It has specified that inter-county training can only begin on September 14 but clubs will be immersed in competition by that stage. There is an acknowledgment that county managers won't be happy and it will hard to see that some will not want to get going as early as next week even though insurance won't cover players and, officially, funding won't be available until September.

"We'd love to give county managers more, we'd love to be able to give clubs more. It's just not possible in the constraints," said McGill.

GPA chief executive Paul Flynn was part of the advisory group and according to director-general Tom Ryan, was on the return to training sub-committee.

11 days' contact training for clubs before games. That could cause a few injury problems?

No obligation for counties to start on that date, Friday, July 31, but with the constraints most will be keen to start that weekend and that could spur an injury rush. When the NFL went back too quickly in 2011 after the strike there was a significant surge, especially in Achilles injuries. If contact guidelines are strictly adhered to, two weeks seems short.

If two-metre social distancing is still being observed by the end of July, is that not a problem?

It is but it's a risk the GAA, and primarily the Government who have advocated a return to contact sport in phase four, are willing to take.

"If the Government is deciding that contact is fine for GAA, we'll move onto contact," explained McGill. "They might decide that social distancing remains in place in general society, but for the good of the country, for mental health, etc., they're treating sport differently. And that's what's implied in the Government roadmap."

Dr Kevin Moran, a member of the advisory group, feels with a two-metre provision "there cannot be contact" but expects the overall picture to continue improving.

Could the return to activity for the GAA move even quicker, in light of the Government's acceleration?

GAA president John Horan has said they will "examine it" and that could possibly lead to a quicker return to contact training but for now, safety and education of members over the next three weeks is a priority. However, on June 29, in light of the Government's announcement, the GAA look certain to move to a maximum of 15 per group instead of 10 with a strong chance that contact will be introduced at training and club game starts coming forward a week to around Friday, July 24, giving 12 weeks to a club window.

Clubs have an 11-week window to run off competitions? Are they constrained by what they can do?

Most will have to reconfigure but there is no onus to run knockout championships. Some counties may consider completing programmes after their interest in county games is at an end. The message is 'no rush' which would point to the probable abolition of the 2020 provincial and All-Ireland club championships.

How do clubs go about opening?

Clubs will have to provide Covid 'supervisors' to each of their teams who will ensure all the necessary practices are being adhered to. They will be obliged to complete an online education module that should be live by next Friday. Chairmen and secretaries, or their nominees, will also be obliged to complete them.

Players will also have to complete the module before restarting. Relevant signage will be erected over the next three weeks around grounds and when training resumes players will have to fill in questionnaires and take self-administered temperature checks before arrival. Clubs will have to ensure proper training scheduling to avoid overlap at facilities. Indoor club facilities, including dressing-rooms but not toilets, will remain shut until August 10.

Players, adult and juvenile, are encouraged to travel to training venues separately, use their own water bottles, avoid handshaking, 'high fives' and other such contact.

What about Cúl Camps?

An announcement confirming they are going ahead is expected next week. There will be a virtual element but clubs are expected take over the running of them rather than the county boards after July 20 with reduced numbers. The popular gear, however, will still be distributed as normal and feedback on participation has been positive.