Final two rounds of Allianz Football League games to proceed as scheduled

All-Ireland minor and under-20 championships also get green light after meeting

The Allianz Football League will proceed as scheduled, as will the All-Ireland minor and under-20 championships. The decision was taken by the GAA’s management committee in remote session on Thursday night after a similar meeting of the county chairs in the afternoon.

There had been some speculation that the completion of the leagues was under review but the view from Croke Park, and endorsed by the counties, was that they should proceed over the weekends of October 18th and 25th.

Doubts had emerged because of the deteriorating public health situation, particularly in Northern Ireland where numbers of daily cases have been setting records.

Fermanagh manager Ryan McMenamin had called earlier this week for a postponement of the county’s league match against Clare in Ennis, as all games activity in the county had been stood down because of the rise in coronavirus numbers, including some within the county panels.

The afternoon meeting decided that if any county had to withdraw from a fixture for reasons to do with the pandemic, the match would simply be forfeited regardless of the consequences for the counties involved.

A proposal that some fixtures, requiring long-distance travel, be played at neutral venues failed to attract sufficient support, as the mood of the meeting was that teams with home advantage should be entitled to exercise it.

There was an agreed exception – that any fixture with no bearing on divisional outcomes can be played at a neutral venue by agreement between the counties involved.

Consensus was also behind the decision to proceed with the underage championships, subject to a proposed tweaking of the minor schedules to eliminate some of the bigger gaps between fixtures.

Other proposed controls, such as the already announced cessation of challenge matches at underage level were approved and broadly welcomed.

There had been unease concerning the minor (under-17) and under-20 competitions given their educational profile. Players in the former category are generally secondary school pupils whereas the latter are frequently attending third level – both cohorts in environments considered to have higher levels of exposure to Covid.

The cancellation of challenge matches is intended to reduce chances of the virus transmitting. For instance one recent minor hurling challenge involved two counties whose players were at school in eight different counties.

As communicated to clubs on Wednesday, the GAA will revisit the shutdown of remaining county championships in two weeks’ time. Although there had been a generally favourable response to the action, announced on Monday the impact on clubs involved in outstanding county championships was criticised by the Club Players’ Association.

The upcoming review is unlikely to signal a widespread return to activity, as it will be dependent on the public health environment. But if the case numbers are deemed acceptable, there is no reason why junior and intermediate finals can’t proceed given that they tend not to involve large numbers of county players.

Given that the intercounty season will be short for many teams, there will be sufficient time to play outstanding fixtures once a county has departed the championship.

A number of counties were in favour of calling off the 2020 football league and deferring it until January of next year.

Although that didn’t reflect the overall view of the meeting, the idea had merit for some administrators in that next season’s league is expected to be very different to the format that began this year’s.

It is now accepted by the GAA that 2021 will also be an exceptional year.

“I think it’s fair to say that I don’t think we’ll be able to play the full league in the format that we’ve known up to now,” said Croke Park head of games administration Feargal McGill at the recent media briefing to launch the 2020 intercounty fixtures programme, at which he acknowledged that the idea of regionalised leagues was under consideration.

That was a pretty clear indication that things aren’t expected to return to normality any time soon. Creating regional divisions would limit travel and also reduce the size of the fixture list.

One format being looked at is the splitting of each of the four divisions into two groups of two, to be determined by minimising the geographical distance between the counties, as in the past when the bottom half of the league was broken into Divisions 3 North and South.

The winners of the two groups would play off for the divisional title. There would be three group matches and a fourth for the finalists, which would allow room to conclude the two remaining matches in the 2020 league.

The reduction in fixtures would be welcome, as current circumstances have turned the league from being significant revenue raisers for counties into liabilities in the absence of spectators.

There are reasons why Croke Park favoured the retention of the original schedule this month, not least of which is that it will be a dry run for administering the championship.

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