"We're not at the tipping point yet" - clubs and counties still in limbo as GAA decide to wait and see 1 year ago

"We're not at the tipping point yet" - clubs and counties still in limbo as GAA decide to wait and see

It's fair to say that 2021 has been a slow burner from a GAA perspective, with players twiddling their thumbs while supporters fight away the withdrawal symptoms.

The last two months have been a slog and truth be told, Wednesday night's announcement of a further two months in no man's land was needed like a hole in the head.

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Inter-county training was ruled out until Easter, at the earliest, while clubs were left to speculate and surmise their situation once again. Minister for Sport Jack Chambers said that the GAA did not show a massive appetite to return in the medium term and so the exemption which was given to the association to complete championships during level 5 last year, was withdrawn.

Some members have been questioning why the GAA didn't state their case and their director of communications Alan Milton spoke about the delay, fixture plans and a variety of such issues on Thursday's GAA Hour Show.

Alan Milton.
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"What came as a surprise to us was that, in crystal clear terms, it was confirmed to us that the exemption that we got before Christmas was no longer in effect," said Milton, with the GAA having been in discussions with government officials.

"In essence, that was based on one thing and that was the fact that we couldn't bubble our players which meant the idea of going back to county training didn't stack up. There's an appetite out there too that this lockdown works, and that it's the last lockdown we have, so that's why we will abide by those rules as much as we would love to be back.

"I will say this, there wasn't the same clamour to get back to inter-county training as there would have been last April or May. I think the clamour this time around was more about 'when will we know?'"

Which is why the GAA attempted to provide at least some degree of certainty with the provisional easter return date. Milton says that juvenile activity and underage training is high on the GAA's agenda, but makes the point that this he feels, will align with the re-opening of the schools.

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"Especially for young people," he says, "non contact training in pods would be superb especially when we've no school but our activities stopped last year when the schools went out, and I never expected to be back at full throttle until the schools were back.

"It's uppermost in our thoughts, the mental health of young people and I would like to think if we get our children back in the classroom, that pods of 12/15 might come back onto the agenda. I think it's really important for them to re-connect with their friends, to be out in the open exercising..."

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As for the fixture plan for the coming season, it's a fools game to design masterplans in a time of such uncertainty, but Milton says that if the covid situation was to pick up in the next few months, that an earlier than easter return could be possible. At this rate, you would have to question whether this statement has raised more questions than answers.

Running the League first is still on the GAA's agenda, but if a 'tipping point' was reached whereby another few weeks are lost, the club first scenario which played out in 2020 could become the plan of action again.

"It's complicated," he says of the fixture plan, "which is why we haven't committed to making any changes yet. We're not at the tipping point yet. If we got started in April and got playing by May, there are tweaks we could make so that we could still have a League - a truncated League - but it does have extra importance this year because of the Tailteann Cup.

"Secondly, if we do reach that tipping point and it's a blank canvas operation, you could be looking at a situation where the club would take place first as it did last year, which could see the GAA having small crowds at some games later on. We didn't pursue that originally because we didn't know when the country would go back to levels two or three, which is needed for club GAA..."