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New restrictions will surely put inter-county Championships in doubt

Donnchadh Boyle



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An empty Croke Park Stadium with inter-county championships set to start this winter. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

An empty Croke Park Stadium with inter-county championships set to start this winter. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

An empty Croke Park Stadium with inter-county championships set to start this winter. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

John Prenty, the Connacht Council's long-serving secretary, probably wasn't the first to think it, but he might have been the first to verbalise it.

"If it is going to be 500, I don't know if it will be worth having any crowds," he said last week, when discussing the potential for severely limited attendances at inter-county championship matches later this year.

"Because you see the hassle clubs have with the 200 limit. So what if you have Mayo and Galway in a Connacht final and there's only 500 (tickets)? It would be easier to have nobody."

At that stage, the GAA was still reeling from the decision to retain the cap on the number of people allowed at outdoor events to 200.

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Connacht GAA chief John Prenty. Photo: Sportsfile

Connacht GAA chief John Prenty. Photo: Sportsfile

Connacht GAA chief John Prenty. Photo: Sportsfile

Most still expected restrictions to be eased to 500 well in advance of the inter-county championships.

Instead, it has gone the other way. Games are now going behind closed doors, a move that casts new doubt on whether the championship will go ahead.

The measures announced yesterday are in place until at least September 13. Inter-county action is scheduled to return a month later.

It's a fast-moving situation, but even allowing for the fluidity of the Covid crisis, it's difficult to see how a behind-closed-doors situation will become one where the championships are a viable prospect inside a month.

And whether the championship will go ahead must now be a live question for the top brass in Croke Park.

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The GAA have hinted that they would have little interest in staging a championship without supporters and just last weekend, president John Horan acknowledged that county boards simply wouldn't have the money to run their county sides.

"The financial question is a factor because boards are not generating revenue and numbers don't seem to be rising," Horan said.

"We are not going to walk blindly into an inter-county championship that would cause large expenditure without working out the whole viability of everything involved. That's on the table now, to examine the whole finances of running the championship.

"Good governance would have it that you shouldn't embark on it if you don't have the money to do it."

Last year, the cost of preparing county teams shot through the €30m mark. And even allowing for the much shortened season that is pencilled in this year, there's a massive difference between what it would cost to prepare for even this shortened season and the relative pittance they have taken in at the gate this year.

Croke Park is conscious of the pressure on boards in that regard. They plan to make a decision on the running of the championship in the first week of September, ahead of county panels returning to training on September 14, just a day after the earliest point where the behind-closed-doors rule could be lifted.

And where once the question was whether we'd have any crowds at the championship, now the question is whether we'll have a championship at all.


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