The GAA has confirmed it has begun an investigation into reports that the Cork senior football squad breached the association's guidelines in relation to Covid-19 by holding a collective training session when such sessions were prohibited.
A spokesman for Croke Park confirmed to The Irish Times that it was investigating reports that up to 30 members of the Cork senior football panel were seen training at Youghal beach in east Cork on January 2nd.
“This matter is being looked into,” said the GAA spokesman, adding that at the time the GAA had taken the decision that there would be no collective training permitted for inter-county teams until January 15th.
However on Monday, the GAA issued a revised directive to all county boards advising them that the prohibition on collective training for inter-county teams had been extended until at least January 31st.
Croke Park said that it had taken the decision to extend the ban on collective training due to “the current exceptional rise in infection rates of Covid-19 and the increased risk of community transmission.”
The investigation by GAA HQ began after images were circulated on social media of a group of men doing various exercises under the apparent supervision of a number of individuals on Youghal beach.
The footage shows men crawling on the sand and pulling themselves along by their elbows and also carrying what appear to be planks over their heads in exercises reminiscent of the type seen at army boot camps.
The Irish Times contacted the Cork County Board of the GAA for confirmation the group involved were the senior footballers and if so, whether the exercise had been approved by team management and/or Cork County Board officials.
However Cork County Board CEO, Kevin O’Donovan declined to comment in response to The Irish Times’s queries, which also asked whether any other Cork teams were involved in collective training in apparent breach of the guidelines.
According to Croke Park, anyone found to be in breach of the ban on collective training would be dealt with under Rule 7.2 (e) of the GAA Official Guide which relates to misconduct considered to have discredited the association.
Individual members of the GAA who have been found to have engaged in misconduct bringing discredit to the GAA face a minimum of eight weeks’ suspension while disbarment and expulsion may also be considered.
And any GAA team or unit that similarly engaged in misconduct bringing discredit to the GAA faces a minimum of eight weeks’ suspension where suspension is deemed appropriate.
The team or unit could also face a fine, while disqualification and expulsion from the GAA may also be considered as sanctions, the GAA confirmed in an email to The Irish Times.
A GAA spokesman clarified that Croke Park is examining the Cork footballers in terms of a breach of the guidelines only in relation to the collective nature of any training being prohibited at the time it’s alleged to have taken place.
There is no investigation into any Cork player breaching the 5km limit on travel ordered by the Government as inter-county players are deemed elite athletes and as such are free to travel more than 5km to train or take part in sport.
The images of the men training on Youghal beach prompted a lot of angry comment on social media, with one person tweeting the photos showed the people ignoring social distancing and were “two fingers to frontline workers”.
It’s not the first time Cork GAA has found itself in the spotlight in relation to Covid-19 guidelines as, in October, there was an angry reaction on social media over images posted online following the Cork Senior Hurling Final.
Supporters of Blackrock GAA, who had won their first title in 18 years, posted images of the team bringing back the Sean Og Murphy Cup to the clubhouse on Church Road, with widespread breaching of social-distancing guidelines.
Local Fine Gael Cllr Des Cahill said the scenes on social media of crowds congregating on Church Road in breach of guidelines to welcome the team home was disappointing but he didn't believe it was intentional.
“Blackrock is the same as every other parish in the country and obviously after winning the county after a lapse of 18 years, emotions got the better of people and they didn’t maintain social distancing, which was disappointing.”
“Unfortunately, emotions ran high after the win and the guidelines weren’t complied with out on the street – it wasn’t intentional but I’m sure if they could turn back the clock and do things differently, the club would do so.”