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Majority pay the price for actions of few

The notion of a compliant GAA has eroded in past few weeks and culminated in Blackrock scenes


SUPPORT: Gaeil Colmcille supporters wearing facemasks during the Meath SFC Final against Ratoath
at Páirc Táilteann in Navan, Meath on Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile

SUPPORT: Gaeil Colmcille supporters wearing facemasks during the Meath SFC Final against Ratoath at Páirc Táilteann in Navan, Meath on Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile

SUPPORT: Gaeil Colmcille supporters wearing facemasks during the Meath SFC Final against Ratoath at Páirc Táilteann in Navan, Meath on Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile

The warning signs were there two weeks ago when Dungannon Clarkes supporters, ecstatic at their club's first Tyrone senior football success in 64 years and the nature of it - a penalty shoot-out after extra-time over Trillick - poured out on to the Healy Park pitch to greet their heroes.

It drew the ire of Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster and other figures in the Six Counties, prompting its own chain of whataboutery and in turn a statement from the Ulster Council urging restraint in such situations.

But those words brought to mind the image of the 'Bull' McCabe seeking to drive back the ocean waves with a stick at the end of the The Field. It had about the same effect.

This is county final season, wrapping up what has arguably been the most dramatic club season in recent times.

But with the exuberance and emotion of so many successes has come instinctive reactions that are completely at odds with the public health guidelines in place. It escalated the following weekend where cameras scanning various grounds left no doubt that there were more than the permitted 200 spectators attending some games.


One county board is understood to have openly provided more than two times the permitted number of tickets (100) to competing clubs for one of its county finals, complete disregard for public health guidelines and the work that GAA officials had done to convince Government to allow spectators back into matches. A slap in the face from one of their own closely aligned units if ever there was one.

Social distancing inside grounds has been inconsistent at best. The advice that all supporters wear masks and stay more than two metres apart has, for the most part, been overlooked. Again cameras panning stands have highlighted levels of congregation that present a poor image of adherence to guidelines.

It has been an impossibility for stewards to convince those attending games to keep their distance, no matter how often they called it out. By and large people did as they pleased and consequently the idea of a compliant GAA has been slowly eroding over the last few weeks. Thus the action taken yesterday, independent of any State announcement, which they were keen to get out ahead of.

The playing of the games has never been the problem for the GAA. It's what has gone on around it that has presented the biggest issues, what NPHET members had suggested a few weeks back when the games were put behind closed doors.

So few have been prepared to let the opportunity for a good celebration to pass them by. And while matters than happen away from the GAA fields are largely out of the Association's control, there have been some spectacular own goals. Blackrock's call to arms to their supporters to greet the team as they arrived back on the road leading to their clubhouse in the aftermath of a gripping Cork senior hurling final on Sunday night, captured on video, was probably a tipping point that led to yesterday's decision to shelve all games for the foreseeable future.

But there were many other instances, the club player who played a county final over the weekend as he awaited the outcome of a test for Covid that turned out to be positive and the stories of clusters developing from celebrations in tightly packed bars on the night of finals got more commonplace and couldn't be ignored on the basis that 'we have our plan.'

Not everyone and every club it must be said. Far from it. But too many were unwilling to change their normal behaviour in the midst of a pandemic. And as cases soared, it became much more unacceptable in the public eye and was creating the impression of an organisation for whom the same rules didn't apply.

It put the GAA leadership in a difficult position to watch these scenes unfold to hear the stories back having worked so hard to put a comprehensive set of plans together for every eventuality since early May and then press so hard for crowds to return.

They can't stop the night time celebrations that have followed these finals but by cutting the remaining finals for the time being, they can stop the source.

That may be a case of cutting off their nose to spite their face but what point was there in continuing to claim a responsible approach when so many shrugged their shoulders at the guidelines and measures laid out?

As it happened, the new measures went beyond what is allowed for in the State's Level 3 plan where senior club matches could have continued behind closed doors. But the GAA is sticking with its own 'Level 4' imposition on its membership, leaving only inter-county games standing, in the interests of public safety but also to take itself out of the firing line.

It leaves quite a few county finals still to be played, the Cork, Carlow and Longford football finals, the Laois, Offaly and Meath hurling finals to name just a few.

Beyond that, there were a myriad of other competitions to be concluded, complete with finals, the presentation of cups and the inevitable celebrations.

Significantly training outdoors can still continue for all club groups, giving most participants a continued opportunity to exercise.

The majority will pay the price for the actions of a few and that's unfortunate. But like water always finding a way, so too do celebrations and inevitable public health consequences. By taking out the source, as in club competition finals, the GAA can take down the temperature and contribute to the public health effort.