Feargal Logan, Tyrone joint-manager speaking to Declan Bogue of the Irish Examiner about the level of vaccination in their squad – Monday, August 16th: "In fairness part of the consideration this year was because it was a compressed league and championship, we were anxious that if guys were vaccinated they might go under for two weeks. And that might inhibit their performance. Vaccination has been a conundrum. We didn't make it mandatory across the board. There are some players vaccinated for a variety of reasons, be they on the front line, or work in health."
Tyrone had played their cards absolutely perfectly over the course of the weekend of August 14th and 15th. On that Saturday, they announced that they were pulling out of the All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry due to the high incidence of Covid-19 in their camp.
Many people took that withdrawal at face value. The GAA, in dire need of the gate receipts and backed into a nasty corner by the idea of an All-Ireland semi-final being conceded, announced the following night that they would give Tyrone another six days to prepare, refixing the game for this Saturday, August 28th, and suddenly Tyrone had gotten exactly what they wanted.
Asking questions as to how this decision was reached seemed a little churlish, and most people were just relieved that we were going to see a football game, even if it was two weeks after the initial date.
Covid is everywhere. These things happen, and the disruption the delay would cause would be confined to club players in two counties, so it was time to move on, sympathise with those Tyrone players affected, particularly the player hospitalised with it, and start preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final.
Wheels came off
But then Feargal Logan spoke to Declan Bogue for Monday morning’s Irish Examiner. And that was when the wheels came off. When Bogue asked “what are the levels of vaccination in the panel?”, Logan would have been well within his rights to tell him that information is confidential.
But that’s not what Logan said. He said “vaccination was a conundrum”. He outlined management’s anxiety that a player who got vaccinated might miss two weeks training. What are we to infer from those comments? Can we presume that coaching anxiety about missing training due to vaccination was conveyed to the players?
Those who couldn’t avoid getting vaccinated for their jobs, it appeared, were vaccinated. For everyone else, what messages were they hearing from their management?
You would think this point hardly needs making but if you’re worried about squad disruption, actually contracting Covid, even in the best case, is far, far more disruptive than this extremely pessimistic, alarmist notion about the vaccine knocking you out for two weeks.
Even asymptomatic Covid means you’re isolating for a prescribed amount of time, with the attendant close contact confusion, while obviously symptomatic Covid can knock you out for a lot longer than that.
You can make a decision which you think is informed about declining vaccination, or you can plead leniency (and then apply pressure for further leniency) when Covid spreads like wildfire – 20 positive tests! – through your camp, but in my opinion you can’t do both.
There have been plenty of people involved in music and the arts, some of them dyed-in-the-wool GAA people, who have looked at crowds of 40,000 people at the All-Ireland and asked, quite rightly, why the GAA are getting preferential treatment – imagine their anger at seeing this blase attitude to vaccination.
Elsewhere in that interview, Logan tells us about all the precautions that Tyrone have been taking – all team meetings outdoors, gym sessions on your own, keeping the shower facilities in their training centre closed. But why not take the one course of action that is proven to be far, far more effective than any other preventative measure?
Logan was worried about vaccinated players missing two weeks of training after getting the jab, and now the entire country has had to wait for two weeks. If Tyrone didn’t take the most obvious, most effective precaution to protect themselves from Covid, it is reasonable to ask why the GAA put the entire season on hold for them. It is just as well this Logan interview came out after the GAA had already granted them the six extra days.
The reality is that vaccination is not a panacea – Covid could still have entered the Tyrone camp, there could have been a number of players who didn’t want to get vaccinated and hence got it, it might even have been contracted by someone already vaccinated, and it could still have caused some disruption to their preparations. It’s everywhere in the community, and attaching blame to people for getting it is fairly pointless.
But if, as a group, they decided that missing a few nights’ training while recovering from the vaccine was a bigger risk than just not getting vaccinated in the first place, then Tyrone have gotten off very, very lightly.