'I can’t change the direction of the wind but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination' – US country singer Jimmy Dean
Hard to imagine this, but it has been more than four-and-a-half months now since we had any competitive GAA action.
Finally, on Friday, we were set free. And from now until six days before Christmas it should be a case of action stations on the GAA fields of Ireland.
Even during the darkest days of the Covid-19 pandemic I always believed we would have a championship of some sort played this year.
But now, as the action resumes, I am filled with doubt.
My optimism has been replaced by a mixture of fear, trepidation and anxiety because, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we’re heading into the ‘unknown unknowns’.
There are so many maybes, buts and what-ifs about so many issues, all of which have the potential to bring all GAA activity to a sudden halt.
The degree of confusion surrounding so many of the instructions being issued, both by the government and the GAA, is not helping matters.
We’re getting mixed messages and from a practical viewpoint many of the instructions are unenforceable. But the key question is whether people are willing to take personal responsibility for their behaviour.
At times, I scratch my head in bewilderment at what’s going on.
The one-size-fits-all approach taken by the government is ham-fisted and discriminates against rural Ireland, even though it has been least affected by the virus itself.
Take the decision not to reopen bars tomorrow. Essentially, this is equating a tiny pub on the west coast to the super bars in Dublin. It’s utterly wrong.
Long before the term social distancing was ever heard of, it was a feature of most rural pubs – because so few customers frequented them.
Face masks are mandatory on public transport but nobody is sure who is responsible for enforcing this regulation.
The whole saga about visitors coming into Ireland is nothing short of a joke. The other day I met friends of mine who, as requested, had self-isolated for two weeks after coming from England.
The least they expected was a phone call to check that they were doing as they promised.
They genuinely thought a garda would call around to the house they were staying in to make sure they were inside.
They never heard a word from anybody.
Likewise, the rules governing the number of visitors allowed into private houses has neither been enforced or observed.
No wonder there are so many out-of-control house parties, which are becoming one of the primary sources for recent confirmed cases of Covid-19.
The cack-handed attempts to regulate the reopening of schools in the autumn is probably another example of poor management. So far it appears the Department of Education is making it up as they go along.
Like the government, the GAA has been responsible for generating a fair bit of confusion within its ranks by the mixed messages they have delivered.
They got off to a bad start with John Horan suggesting that as long as social distancing existed there would be no games. Well, we still have social distancing but matches have resumed.
The GPA revealed that a fifth of county players who replied to a survey wouldn’t play again unless a vaccine was discovered.
Predictably a vaccine hasn’t been found, but all their members are back playing. Why did they change their minds?
Frankly, the GPA has performed abysmally during this crisis.
This was its golden opportunity to protect its members by condemning the widespread flouting of the
county-team training ban.
Instead they issued a bizarre statement saying there should be no return to inter-county training before the designated date of September 14. But they still asked that insurance cover be made available to players who returned before that date.
The GAA hasn’t covered themselves in glory on this specific issue either.
Having initially said there would be no sanctions for counties who broke the training rule, a week later they did a U-turn and asked clubs to inform on their own players.
It was a throwback to the bad old days of the vigilantes who spied on GAA members who attended soccer and rugby games.
There have been mixed messages about competitions too.
It is great that the Allianz Football League and the U-20 Championship will be completed.
But spare a thought for the next generation of GAA stars.
St Brendan’s Killarney and St Patrick’s Cavan had already qualified to meet in the All-Ireland Junior Colleges (U-16) final. But, disgracefully, the final will not be played.
Others units in the GAA family have questions to answer as well.
The Ladies Football Association threw London out of their Junior Football Championship, yet their men’s team are still scheduled to play in the Connacht Championship.
Even though two rounds of the Minor Camogie Championship had been played the Camogie Association opted to scrap the competition.
To their credit the GAA produced a set of guidelines which formed the basis of the return to play.
Perhaps, unwittingly, they have come up with a few proposals which should be kept when the pandemic is over.
So hallelujah to them for cutting match-day panels to 24. Thankfully it will herald the end of clubs bringing a battalion of players to matches and insisting they get access to the pitch.
Better still, they have restricted the number of officials allowed inside the pitch perimeter to five in football and seven in hurling (including two hurley carriers).
Best of all they have clipped the wings of the maor uisce after delegates at this year’s Congress voted narrowly to keep him in a job.
As players have to take drinks from their own labelled bottles during designated water-breaks, the maor uisce is now allowed on the field only to give instructions to individual players.
Hopefully this will bring an end to him taunting opponents, disputing decisions with referees and restricting the line of vision of goalkeepers when they are kicking out the ball.
The big question, however, is: who will enforce all of these regulations?
Spare a thought for the club referee heading off to officiate at his first match this weekend. The chances are he will be a ‘one-man band’.
Don’t forget the football referees are expected to implement significant rule changes surrounding the kick-out, advance mark and the sin bin.
Now he has to ensure that the new Covid-19 regulations such as no spitting and no coughing in the face of an opponent – now a red-card offence – are observed as well.
The number of clubs which have had to suspend activity in the last week because of issues surrounding Covid-19 is a wake-up call for everyone.
Nonetheless, the government’s decision to continue to allow only 200 people to attend an outdoor event is ridiculous.
Take of my own club Templenoe. We are due to play Dr Crokes in the first round of the Kerry County Championship in Fitzgerald Stadium next Friday night.
Unless the government sees sense and allows 500 inside the ground, the match will be watched by about 100 spectators in a stadium which has a capacity of 38,000 and has 9,000 seats.
I know the new government have been distracted by a lot of issues since they took office. But I would implore them to change this rule, which has had serious financial implications for all virtually every GAA club.
Finally, there is the issue of personal responsibility. I hope I’m wrong but I fear the old Irish trait of cute hoorism could derail the country’s efforts to rid itself of the virus.
I have heard about and witnessed so many irresponsible acts in recent weeks that I’m worried.
Let’s face it, a minority of publicans tore the arse out of the rule that food had to be served in order for their premises to open.
There were knives and fork on the tables and menus handed out, but a morsel of food was never served.
The annual Ring of Kerry charity cycle, which normally attracts 10,000 participants, was cancelled. However, hundreds of cyclists still turned up and did the cycle.
Apart from the implications for Covid-19, they ended up being a danger to themselves – as the weather was appalling – and to others because obviously there was no garda and medical personnel around.
I ate in four restaurants in the Cork/Kerry area over the last two weeks. It was hard to believe they were all governed by the same regulations.
Two took contact numbers, but otherwise the experience was the same as normal though the positioning of the tables in their premises allowed for social distancing.
At the third restaurant, the staff wore gloves and the menus were wiped down whereas in the fourth there were aprons, visors and face masks – it was akin to being in a hospital.
Ultimately, unless everybody takes personal responsibility the scheduled GAA season will not be completed.
We are heading into the new normal – there is and will continue to be a risk.
As my colleague Sean McGoldrick wrote in this paper last Sunday, there is no room for complacency or cutting corners.
It only takes one act of stupidity from a player, manager or official to derail the whole process and bring the season to a sad and premature end.
I’ll say a prayer that everything works out but I’m hopeful rather than confident.