The expected Government announcement of a further period of coronavirus restrictions today will see the GAA, among other sporting organisations, update their own projections on activity.
But after falling into the State’s slipstream after the previous March 12 announcement, it’s unlikely that the GAA will project any further than what is now being asked in the national interest.
So if it’s an extension into the middle of April and beyond, the GAA will dovetail accordingly, continuing to restrict games, training, meetings and other activity in line with that announcement. Any broader announcement as to a likely championship start would be pointless at this stage for obvious reasons.
But even now it’s patently clear that the championship won’t be launching in this country on the weekend of May 9/10 – the New York/Galway Connacht Football Championship game has already been shelved while London/Roscommon in the same competition, fixed for May 2, will also go by the wayside today.
The leagues may also be put to bed too, the football league in all likelihood voided so that every team starts back on the same grid in 2021. That’s tough on some counties well placed to improve their status but in the circumstances something they will deal with easily.
To find two weekends to complete it, in what is becoming a very compressed summer time-frame, has become too challenging.
The only exceptions may be the hurling division finals that have promotion at stake which can be dotted in at a later date and would be welcomed by the counties involved.
Efforts to salvage as much of the championship as possible will supplant league completion.
What elements of the championship can be retained obviously depends on time-frames but with May as good as out of the equation, the loss of four weekends will almost certainly force a redraw that doesn’t have hurling provincial round-robin and Super 8s SFC quarter-finals in it.
All scenarios are being planned for but are directly linked to any future relaxation of Government direction on large gatherings.
If that extends into June and the championship got a green light in July, it could still come in close to schedule some time in early September.
With the windows of opportunity being narrowed down all the time, the possible choices for the football championship are being distilled into just a couple based around a knockout format without a qualifier element.
One incorporates the provincial championships as they have been drawn with the four winners progressing to All-Ireland semi-finals.
With an All-Ireland final, this would take six weekends to complete, provided games finished ‘on the day’, to allow for the four rounds it would take to complete the Leinster and Ulster Championships.
Allowing for week-on-week games in the provinces then two-week breaks between the provincial finals and All-Ireland semi-finals and All-Ireland semi-finals and All-Ireland final, that would take seven weeks (eight weekends) to complete.
New York’s participation in the Connacht SFC under any reformatted programme will be in significant doubt for this year.
An open-draw knockout without provincial boundaries would involve one less weekends (five rounds) and could incorporate a Tier 2 element with the 16 beaten teams in the first round playing down to a Tier 2 final along much the same time-frame.
Retaining a Tier 2 element at the expense of provincial championships would draw opposition but in the circumstances, it could represent the perfect opportunity to road-test a future without those provincial boundaries.
The proportionate percentage of revenue that provincial championships would generate in an ordinary year could still be set aside for the four provincial councils.
Many managers and players are openly welcoming this possible development as a diversion from the norm. The question is down to time and what those windows of opportunity will be.
The hurling championship, incorporating knockout provincial championships, would take five weekends (three for five-county Leinster and Munster Championships with quarter-finals) to complete and would have to align with the closing stages of the football championships with separate weekends for the finals and semi-finals in both competitions.
That would leave the hurling championships with significantly fewer games than football but again a sacrifice that has to be made.
Any deferral beyond the beginning of July would place the 2020 championship in some peril.
The GAA would be reluctant to encroach too much back into September and even October, prime time for club championship activity, even if it would result in a detrimental financial cost.