War of words escalates between Clare and Wexford over Covid-19 cases

GAA HQ says any calls on who is a close contact, ‘in sport or society’, is a matter for HSE

Clare manager Brian Lohan. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Clare manager Brian Lohan. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

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Croke Park has distanced itself from the war of words between Clare and Wexford on the matter of reporting close contacts around positive cases of Covid-19, reiterating that, “be it in sport or general society”, any such call is a matter for the HSE.

Conflicting claims on the exact chain of events of recent days escalated further on Monday morning when Wexford county chair Micheál Martin said Clare hurling manager Brian Lohan had made “ill-informed” and “outrageous” comments in the aftermath of their win over Laois in Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League game.

Wexford’s game against Kilkenny, also originally set for Sunday, was called off on Saturday afternoon, at the request of Wexford, after a third player had tested positive on Friday evening. It had first been announced on Wednesday that two players had tested positive in the aftermath of the clash with Clare the previous Sunday, before later in the day the county’s women and camogie teams both confirmed one case of coronavirus each.

It was expected that GAA headquarters would issue some statement of clarification on Monday; instead a spokesperson for Croke Park on the matter told The Irish Times: “the HSE are the body that decide on whether a person is a close contact or not, be it in sport or general society.”

Croke Park had produced a 15-page Covid-19 guideline document on the safe return to Gaelic games last year, but this makes no reference to the matter of establishing the difference between a close and casual contact, only that playing of games was considered casual contact activity.

“Our return-to-play documents detail how best to reduce the risk of being designated a close contact. However, each case is different and ultimately it is the HSE who decide, not us.”

The HSE doesn’t comment on individual cases, although according to its most recent guidelines, anyone can be deemed as a close contact after “spending more than 15 minutes of face-to-face contact within 2 metres of someone who has Covid-19, indoors or outdoors”.

Re-fixed

The Wexford-Kilkenny game is set to be re-fixed for this weekend, the only free date left before the final two rounds of games. According to Croke Park, “the CCCC are continuing to liaise with the HSE in this context and will provide clarity on the fixture as soon as possible.”

Two as-yet-unidentified Clare players had been ruled out of their game against Laois after been deemed close contacts with the Wexford players from the previous game who tested positive, and afterwards the Clare manager told RTÉ there was “a whole lot of anger amongst our set-up as a result of what happened”.

Lohan added: “We were contacted by the HSE to say that two of the Wexford players nominated two of our players as close contacts. So, that was unusual for us, because any of the protocols that we do is aimed to make sure that we are casual contacts rather than close contacts.

“In one instance in particular, where a substitute came on for Wexford, he named one of our players as a close contact. So I find it very unusual that that would be the case.”

Speaking on South East Radio on Monday morning, the Wexford chair denied his county had anything to do with the establishing of close contacts, and called on Lohan to retract his comments.

“I would like to again reiterate that no Wexford player had anything to do with the listing of Clare players as close contacts,” Martin said. “This information can be independently verified by the HSE. We have spoken to the HSE and they, in turn, have spoken to Clare GAA, like I have with my counterpart there, and informed Clare GAA once again that the accusation is inaccurate.

“The key point is certainly that the comments made by the Clare senior hurling manager are inaccurate. I am very disappointed to have to address them. They are ill-informed and outrageous. More than that, they are hurtful.

“Last week the Limerick hurling manager made comments in the heat of the moment and later took them back and I would hope that there would be a retraction in this case too.”

‘Factually incorrect’

A statement from the Wexford county board also claimed: “The suggestion made that members of Wexford GAA had somehow nominated Clare players as close contacts is factually incorrect. Wexford GAA have again spoken to HSE South East this morning and this position can be independently verified by HSE. Wexford GAA will continue to work through the protocols as requested by HSE.”

Clare issued a statement on the matter to radio station Clare FM, although there is no direct reference to how the classification of the Clare players as “close contacts” came about.

“Clare GAA asked the two players who were deemed close contacts last week to step back from training and game activity once they were named and, as a consequence, have to isolate for the intervening 10 days from notification.

“Following voluntary testing of the two nominated Clare players, they were deemed to be negative but will still be isolating. At all times Clare GAA teams adhere to the guidelines laid down by the HSE and the governing body of our sport. Clare GAA will take on board at all times the advice and support provided by the health authorities.

“Clare GAA will endeavour to ensure the strictest management of health and safety during Covid and non-Covid times for all Clare GAA teams and request that the clubs of the county do likewise as we now move into the playing season at levels.”

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