ANTRIM county chairman Ciarán McCavana remains hopeful that the Allianz hurling and football leagues will be completed this season following on from talks with the GAA this week.
Last Friday, the association published its ‘Safe Return to Gaelic Games’ document with July 31 as the target date for the resumption of club games with county action scheduled to start on October 17.
Later this month, the GAA will give further details on how the inter-county season will be rescheduled in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, but it remains unclear if the Allianz Leagues will be completed.
The GAA’s Director of Games Administration, Fergal McGill, has stated that a decision has yet to be reached.
“In terms of the Allianz Leagues, we haven’t made any decisions, CCCC haven’t,” said McGill.
“We indicated previously that our preference is to finish out the Leagues, particularly in football in terms of round six and seven and in hurling, in terms of finishing Division Two and Three.
“In other words, the games in football and hurling which affect promotion and relegation, but we haven’t made that decision yet. Again, that’ll fall into the CCCC’s overall plan for finishing the season which will come at the end of this month really, once we’ve confirmed we’re taking the next step.”
Antrim have a vested interest in having the Allianz Leagues completed with the senior hurlers set to take on Kerry in the Division 2A final while the Saffron footballers need wins over Wicklow and Waterford in their final two games to ensure
“I raised it with them today (Tuesday) and (GAA president) John Horan is very aware of how important the leagues are to counties like Antrim,” stated McCavana.
“We are in a league final against Kerry and we were one game away from promotion to Division One of the Hurling league.
“In football, we were second in the league with two games to go. He said he understood the importance of the leagues to counties who maybe aren’t going to be winning All-Ireland titles.
“That will be taken on board when they make their final decision later this month, but I would remain quite positive that they will finish the leagues.”
The Antrim chief also sought assurances from Croke Park in relation to a number of other issues including Cúl Camps and Zoom training for Covid-19 officers at club level.
Although many club have opened up their premises to allow access to walkways this week, on June 29 pitches will be open, but with strict health and safety protocols.
Contract tracing will be in place for all players and backroom members.
A Covid Supervisor will be appointed by clubs and duties will include taking temperature levels of team participants upon entry to the grounds. If the level is over 37.5 the player must return home. All participants will have to complete a health questionnaire and submit to the club's Covid Supervisor.
Anyone on the field will have to sanitise their hands upon entry and exit from grounds and clubs will be asked to display Covid-19 signage on their premises.
There will be a limit on spectator numbers in line with government directives and spectators will be separated from players in line with social distancing requirements.
McCavana also gave his backing to the GAA’s decision to allow club action to return before county.
Last month, Antrim football manager Lenny Harbinson outlined his belief that the county season should resume first because, simply in terms of the numbers involved, it would be easier to manage.
“There were arguments for and against both to be honest. The reality is I don’t think the GAA are keen on playing games without spectators,” added the Antrim chairman.
“While a club like mine own (Naomh Éanna) would draw a decent size of a crowd, most other clubs can accommodate games in their premises and stagger out training. I’m not saying Lenny was wrong with his remarks, but Lenny is interested in county management and that’s his job. County makes up two per cent of our players though.
“The GAA’s thinking is that they could tease out any issues with smaller crowds before bringing bigger numbers of spectators and that’s probably why it has been done like that. If they had have gone county before club, people will say it is elitist – the GAA probably couldn’t win.
“County players will also have an opportunity to get some games under their belt before they return to county action, which is at a higher level again.”
It will be up to individual counties to decide what form the 11-week club season now takes with McCavana adding that Antrim clubs will be consulted before any decision is taken.
Meanwhile, John Horan remains hopeful that spectators will be permitted to attend inter-county games later this year, even if capacities will be greatly reduced.
The capacity of Croke Park may be reduced from 82,300 to 21,000 if two-metre social distancing remains in place or 42,000 if the distance is lowered to one metre.
“It’s something we’re very conscious of and something we’re looking at, particularly in the context of Croke Park, as to what would be the possibilities of having a crowd in Croke Park for a game, taking into account the social distancing measures that actually are in place at a particular time,” Horan said.
“So, no, we’re on top of that. It would be our hope to have attendances at games. It may mean we would use restricted venues for the inter-county Championships when they actually come back on board. It’s something we’re conscious of and we see it as desirable to actually have crowds at a game.
“Obviously, I don’t think they’ll ever be at the number of level they were at, they will be restricted, but that restriction will take into account all the health measures and guidance we’re given.