Earlier this week, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar offered some hope to young kids and their coaches in a Newstalk interview that they could see some action sooner rather than later when he floated the prospect of underage teams "doing some form of training" that aligned with the previous Level Four ‘Living with Covid' plan.
t presented the prospect of some normality returning to the GAA fields in the not too distant future with the "definite possibility," as articulated by GAA Director-General Tom Ryan and president John Horan, of inter-county action resuming in March when they briefed counties after a Covid Advisory group meetings just nine days ago.
But things can change rapidly. Even as Varadkar was projecting hope, his Government colleague Jack Chambers, who is Minister for State for Sport, and other Government representatives were killing it in the short term by informing GAA officials that inter-county games didn't have Level Five status under the current restrictions, unlike the last Level Five restrictions between October and December when clearance for the resumption of the leagues and playing of the championships was there.
Appreciating that the country is in a more fragile place than it was during the second lockdown, a bit of clarity around that change of status would still be helpful from the Department of Sport, especially when League of Ireland clubs, notwithstanding their professional/semi-professional status, remain on course to restart their season on March 26.
It was the GAA that sought clarity, having taken the decision itself through its Covid Advisory Group, to push back the start of its season by at least a month, unaware that inter-county status had been revised.
That aside, it throws the entire GAA season into chaos. With no knowledge of what the revised 'Living with Covid’ plan, due out at the end of the month, might allow for team sport, a number of scenarios are possible. But the spectre of 'club first' again looms large with a championship at the back end of the season, where there will be the slim prospect of some crowds being able to push through the turnstiles once more.
But the leagues are in a precarious position. One line of thought is that, if the green light for pre-season was given at Easter, a four-week run in, followed by a five-weekend games programme would take it to early June and by then club activity could be permitted, allowing a club season of 13-14 weeks to run its course, like last year, before inter-county resumes again and a championship is played.
It's fractured, a little messy but may tick a lot of boxes again and align with the revised levels.
But without a clear line of sight as to what time is available, it really is second-guessing. Perhaps dispensing with the league and moving straight to a May-July championship, with back doors in hurling and football, could be preferable. But many counties in the lower divisions value the league more than the championship, even allowing for the introduction of a Tailteann Cup this year, and would be reluctant to see it dispensed with.
The additional delay and uncertainty will frustrate managers and players, some of whom may weigh up their future involvement. There was novelty in a winter championship last year, a sense that badly-needed entertainment was being provided. But the prospect of another winter championship won't be warmly welcomed a second time around.
The compression of time could potentially impact adversely on the playing of All-Ireland club and provincial championships once more, no matter how the schedule is reworked and any finished product is sure to have a knock-on effect on 2022, even at this stage.
In tandem with this is the frustration being felt by kids, their coaches and parents that the restrictions could apply to them until Easter at least and maybe longer, unless the Tánaiste is working off a different plan as per his interview earlier this week.