GAA scrambling to deal with GPA demand for ‘baseline testing’ of all county panels

Players’ body will consider a possible resolution proposed by the Covid Advisory Group

Waterford have withdrawn their  senior footballers from the Division Four  league match in Antrim on  Saturday due to  Covid-related concerns. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Waterford have withdrawn their senior footballers from the Division Four league match in Antrim on Saturday due to Covid-related concerns. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

There is optimism that any issues created by the Gaelic Players Association’s demand for “baseline testing” of all county panels, as part of the price for their continuing agreement to proceed with the season, will be resolved.

The matter was discussed at yesterday evening’s meeting of the GAA’s Covid Advisory Group of which GPA CEO Paul Flynn is a member and a possible resolution emerged, which the players’ body will consider. A statement is expected later on Friday.

It was another day when the GAA focus remained firmly on the pandemic.

Cases in Roscommon, Offaly and Sligo were supplemented by the withdrawal of Waterford footballers from the Division Four football league match in Antrim this Saturday for Covid-related concerns.

Later last night, Offaly hurlers conceded their first-round match against Kildare in the Christy Ring Cup after a player tested positive for Covid and most of the county’s panellists were deemed ‘close contacts’, requiring them to restrict their movements.

The GPA executive had reviewed the players’ position in the wake of Monday’s decision by Government to move to Level 5 restrictions and in the light of some of the above outbreaks.

The players’ response was communicated to Croke Park after Wednesday evening’s executive meeting and circulated to the membership yesterday morning.

In return for maintaining support for the intercounty season, the GPA requested additional safeguards, most strikingly the testing but also “robust” travel arrangements.

It was an unexpected move and one that couldn’t have gone down very well with Croke Park administrators given the medical position of the GAA’s Covid Advisory Group, as outlined by one of its members Professor Mary Horgan, President of the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland, that universal testing is an unreliable method of screening.

“There is no position for rapid, routine testing as a screening tool at this point in time,” she told The42.ie as recently as last Tuesday. “That’s in line with public health guidelines. The best testing still is done on [the basis that] either you’ve got symptoms or you’re a close contact, as deemed by public health.”

The latter point, the issue of close contacts, is being monitored by the GAA. Originally in the return to play at club level, most playing and training contacts were deemed ‘casual’ by the HSE but each situation is separately assessed and there has been an increase in the number of such interactions deemed ‘close contacts’.

The above Offaly situation is a case in point. In the county’s statement of withdrawal from the Ring Cup match it was explained that they would have fulfilled the fixture had they even had a weakened team but with most of the panel ruled out, that proved impossible.

Rapid testing

“We also wish to emphasise that the county board, team management, players and backroom staff have followed HSE and GAA guidelines in relation to Covid-19 at all times, and had expected that the panel members would have been deemed ‘casual contacts’ rather than ‘close contacts’ of the one player with Covid-19.

“We hope to participate in the second round of the Christy Ring Cup on the weekend of 7th/8th November, when the players who are restricting their movements will hopefully be available. They are currently availing of the GAA’s rapid testing facility.”

The GPA call for ‘baseline testing’ would be a departure for the GAA, which has been deploying the above-mentioned rapid testing service for counties, whose medical officers request it.

For instance in Wexford last week, after four footballers were tested positive by public health authorities, triggering concern within the county executive as a result of which both the football and hurling panels were tested. No further cases emerged from the latter whereas two hurlers returned positive tests before following the relevant protocols.

Were the GAA to go down the road of universal testing, it would be costly – an estimated half a million euro, if all county panels were involved, including the women’s games. The Government granted €15 million to Gaelic games to defray the costs of the senior championships this year.

There had already been surprise that the GPA’s survey of members last week had taken place so close to the return of the intercounty season but the players had been anxious to conduct the consultation in as up-to-date an environment as possible given the spread of Covid.

Meanwhile, the decision by Waterford footballers to forfeit their Division Four match with Antrim meant that a third AFL fixture had been conceded after Leitrim and Longford had decided not fulfil fixtures against Down and Cork in Division Three.

Like the other counties, Waterford won’t be fined, as there is to be no punishment for any Covid-related forfeiture.

Roscommon footballers, already promoted from Division Two, have also registered a Covid case but with a smaller number of players deemed close contacts, are in a position to send a team to Kingspan Breffni Park for the final match against Cavan.

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