Brian Cody has never been one to speak just for the sake of it and there was a noticeable pause when the Kilkenny boss swapped pleasantries with Dublin counterpart Mattie Kenny following last Saturday’s Leinster SHC final victory.
he pair were in deep conversation with Covid-19 the topic of discussion after the Dubs were forced to deal with issues at the 11th hour as the loss of starters Cian O’Callaghan and Ronan Hayes seriously undermined their charge before throw-in.
With Oisín O’Rorke and Fergal Whitely also sidelined as close contacts, it highlighted the chaos which Covid can cause and Cody will aim to learn any lessons possible to avoid a similar situation occurring on Noreside.
The reality, however, is that every box could be ticked and disaster could still strike as the 11-time All-Ireland-winning manager encouraged everyone to be “totally vigilant” as the close-contact situation could potentially “cripple” a team at any time.
“Everybody is going to have to be really, really careful,” Cody said. “The reality is it’s there for absolutely everybody and we’re just going to have to be absolutely, totally vigilant. You can be very unlucky and get the virus but it’s the close-contact situation that really can cripple a team. The responsibility is on everybody concerned to be totally vigilant and you can still have hard luck. Hopefully over the next few weeks it will go well for all teams because it was so important to continue on playing sport.
“What’s there is so, so serious. Obviously, we’re getting closer to the end game if you like but now it’s just attacking us again. There is a huge responsibility on everybody to be very, very careful.”
There may have been much more worry before inter-county action resumed last autumn/winter but there’s a distinct possibility that Covid-19 will have a bigger impact on this year’s GAA championships.
The high-profile cases of the Sligo footballers – who played no championship action in 2020 – and the Offaly hurlers resulted in fixtures being conceded as a result of Covid but the expected mass damage never materialised with squads running a tight ship.
That is still the case this year but the Delta variant has changed the game somewhat and with spiralling numbers of positive cases, Covid is looming larger now than ever in the GAA with seasons potentially decided by an outbreak, as Dublin learned last weekend.
The vast majority of inter-county players fall into the unvaccinated age bracket and the consequences are grave for a squad should Covid-19 knock at your door.
Mayo were without several frontline stars for their recent Connacht SFC semi-final defeat of Leitrim as manager James Horan documented the “challenging” build-up to a knock-out fixture.
“It was very challenging for the players but they were amazing. They had to go through some testing regimes but they were excellent. They dropped whatever they were doing to make sure we followed HSE guidelines,” Horan said in the aftermath.
Kildare were minus influential attacker Darragh Kirwan for their narrow Leinster SFC semi-final defeat of Westmeath as he was a close contact, while Armagh’s No 1 goalkeeper Blaine Hughes was conspicuous by his absence in their Ulster SFC loss to Monaghan the day previous.
Under HSE guidelines, those vaccinated are not required to restrict their movements or be tested for Covid-19 if they are deemed a close contact but they must have received the jab either at least a week or 14/15 days beforehand.
It’s a situation which is only going to get messier for the GAA over the coming weeks and months given that the bulk of their players are among the community in various occupations and don’t have the luxury of being professional athletes working within a bubble.
When you consider that a US Olympic gymnast tested positive in recent days, it is remarkably easy to contract the virus or come in contact with someone who has and that will be a worry for every player/manager still competing.
Hurler of the Year Gearóid Hegarty recently revealed what life is still like for inter-county players and how Limerick remain in their bubble by not visiting friends’ houses, togging out in the stands and continuing to wear face masks, so it’s clear that vigilance is still a top priority among GAA squads.
The last thing any squad wants is to have their season decimated by Covid, but the probability of it happening continues to increase with every passing day.