Limited club action set to resume in the North on April 12th

Little prospect of GAA clubs south of the border being able to return on same date

Armagh All-Ireland winner Oisín McConville has said that there should be a return to activity within the North given its profile of lower case numbers and a more advanced vaccine rollout. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Armagh All-Ireland winner Oisín McConville has said that there should be a return to activity within the North given its profile of lower case numbers and a more advanced vaccine rollout. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

The GAA’s Covid Advisory Group will meet next Monday and consider the evolving situation in Northern Ireland, which is expected to see limited club activities resume.

Earlier this week the Northern Ireland executive laid out a schedule for relaxing restrictions that included allowing clubs to train in groups of no bigger than 15, which may take place from April 12th – subject to ratification the previous week.

There is little prospect of the GAA south of the border being able to follow suit on this. No club activity of any sort is permitted until Level 3 of the Covid guidelines at the earliest and with little sign of movement from Level 5 that is currently a distant prospect.

It is however expected that the advisory group will allow the limited return for clubs in the six counties to proceed even though units in the other 26 counties won’t be able to for a while.

Within Ulster GAA there have been conflicting views of what should be done. Armagh All-Ireland winner Oisín McConville has said that there should be a return to activity within the jurisdiction given its profile of lower case numbers and a more advanced vaccine roll-out.

Others agree with Tyrone chair Michael Kerr, who within the last few days expressed the view that the GAA should move as a single, 32-county entity.

There was no determination made on this matter at Tuesday’s meeting of the Ulster Council and the official line is that the province will wait until the Government in Dublin finalises its decision on any lifting of restrictions on Gaelic games from April 5th.

Revision

This is due for revision within the next week or so and whereas Croke Park officials remain cautiously optimistic about getting the go-ahead for the restart of intercounty training, there is equally acceptance that this is dependent on the public health environment not deteriorating towards the end of the month.

It has also been the case that the GAA have been previously caught on the hop by expected easing of restrictions not materialising.

Assuming intercounty gets the go-ahead, all 32 counties will be free to return. Those in Northern Ireland have always had ‘designated status’ but have been constrained by the GAA’s reluctance to resume - even before the association was surprised in early February by the revelation that Gaelic games south of the border had lost the exemption, which had allowed last year’s All-Irelands to proceed.

If that happens, competitive action is expected by the first week in May. In those circumstances, the Northern Ireland executive is likely to allow limited club activity to proceed on April 12th and according to a GAA source there would be no obstacle to that.

“The Covid committee will have studied the finer points of the situation in the six counties before Monday night’s meeting but ultimately there’s no reason to hold anyone back and if that’s confirmed the likelihood is that we green-light activity within clubs in the North.

“There’s no issue with a staggered return of clubs. The issue would be at intercounty if teams were getting a leg up on others by returning to training earlier. The earliest we’re going to see clubs from different counties playing each other is November.”

Meanwhile, Waterford have again raised reservations about the suspension of part of the GAA’s injury benefit fund.

In a statement released on Thursday following a remote meeting, the county executive said that a request that the matter be included on the agenda for Saturday’s Central Council meeting had been sent to Croke Park.

The issue concerns cover for loss of earnings, which has been part of the protection afforded players by the fund, which is more than 90 years old. In GAA finance director Ger Mulryan’s annual report it was announced that this had been suspended.

There has been some push-back against the cost cutting measure. It has been pointed out that players may well be reluctant to take the risk of any injury, which might prevent them from working if they are expected to take the financial hit themselves.

The problem has been that the gate receipts traditionally used to subsidise losses in the injury benefit fund, have not been available.

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