No GAA team training or matches until Easter
There will be no inter-county training or matches until the beginning of April at the earliest - after the Government clarified to the GAA that such activity is no longer considered 'elite sport' under the current Level 5 restrictions.
Inter-county activities had previously been deemed 'elite sport', alongside professional sports, and this allowed the All-Ireland championships to be started last autumn and concluded in December.
Officials from the GAA, LGFA and Camogie Association met with Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers earlier this week. Arising from that meeting, the GAA's Covid Advisory committee has recommended that no training or matches take place until Easter at the earliest. Easter weekend falls on April 3/4 this year.
With the GAA expected to give teams a training window of approximately four weeks in advance of fixtures, it now looks likely that no games will be played until May. In this scenario, there has to be considerable doubt over whether the National Leagues in football and hurling will be played this year.
If the leagues are scrapped, it will have implications for the All-Ireland SFC as a county's eligibility to participate in the qualifiers was to be determined by finishing league positions.
The Tailteann Cup - the second tier championship planned for 2020 - did not take place last year, and there is now a strong possibility that the inaugural running of the competition won't get off the ground this year either.
The GAA's master fixtures plan had outlined a 'split season' which would see inter-county action coming first, with the All-Ireland finals in either July or August, and then club action for the reminder of the year.
But with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic still casting a deep shadow over all sporting activity, these plans will have to be revisited.
GAA President John Horan and Director General Tom Ryan released a statement last night (Wednesday) to outline the situation. However, they did not state the reasons given by the Government as to why inter-county activity is no longer covered under level 5 exemptions for elite sports.
The statement said that the GAA’s Covid Advisory Group had met to consider the outcome of a meeting between the three Gaelic games governing bodies (the GAA, Ladies Gaelic Football Association and Camogie Association) and representatives of the Government.
“The meeting was held to brief the governing bodies on the short-term prospects for a return to training and playing of our games. The Government representatives clarified that inter-county Gaelic games activity is not covered under the current level 5 exemptions for elite sports," said the statement, jointly signed by Mr Horan and Mr Ryan.
“As such, a return to inter-county training or games is not permitted under the current restrictions. It was also clear that there will not be any change to this position post-March 5 when the restrictions currently in place are reviewed. It is the view of the GAA’s Covid Advisory group that no on field activity will be permitted — training or games — until Easter at the earliest.
“ln the interim, it is expected that the Government will publish an updated ‘Living with Covid’ plan and we expect that this will provide clarity on when clubs and counties are likely to be allowed return to training and games in 2021. It should also provide clarity on when other off-field club activities may be permitted to resume.
“It is clear that this extended delay to the planned return of the inter-county season will have knock-on effects for both the inter-county and club games programmes originally planned for 2021," continued the statement.
“As of now, the GAA have made no firm decisions on what competitions may or may not be facilitated in any revised fixture programme — such decisions will be a factor of how much time is made available to us, both for an inter-county season and for the broader participation levels that will be necessary for a meaningful club season.
“While we will begin to look at contingency plans for the Master Fixtures programme, we will not be able to take definitive decisions in this context until we have a clear picture of what restrictions we are likely to be operating under at various points in the year ahead.
“Rest assured, however, that once clarity is provided by Government and public health authorities on the likely road ahead for society generally and sport in particular, the GAA will follow with its own roadmap and plan for our own activities at both inter-county and club level that will cover whatever time is available to us for the remainder of the year.
"We know these latest developments will come as a great disappointment to all those who are anxious to resume their Gaelic Games involvement, be it on or off the field. While we remain in the midst of a deadly pandemic, there is significant cause for optimism that much better days lie ahead.
"With your help we are certain that we will eventually have a fulfilling season at both club and county level in 2021, just as we had in 2020."
Mr Horan and Mr Ryan thanked everybody involved in the GAA "for their patience and understanding of the current situation and for co-operating with all of the restrictions that have been put in place".
"We will prepare a revised Master Fixture Calendar and plan for the remainder of 2021 once a new Government roadmap for society and sport is made available," the statement added.