ANTRIM’S Declan Lynch believes counties who miss out on a league final appearance at Croke Park this year should be given a game at headquarters next year.
Last month, a special congress approved emergency powers to alter the structure of this year’s Championships with current restriction in the Republic set to last until at least May 5 with all Championship fixtures postponed for the foreseeable.
The GAA has already stated that it is “highly unlikely” that the inter-county Championships will begin before July, but they have reiterated their commitment to finish the football and hurling league games which affect promotion and relegation.
The Saffrons are challenging for promotion on two fronts with the hurlers due to face Kerry in the Division 2A final while the footballers need wins over Wicklow and Waterford to ensure promotion from Division Four.
Yet, Lynch feels that, in the event that the leagues are completed, next year’s league meeting between the promoted teams should take place in Croke Park.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Limerick and Antrim occupied the top two berths in Division Four while Cork and Down (Division Three) and Armagh and Roscommon (Division Two) were in pole position to gain promotion from the other divisions.
“The GAA obviously have to make a call on the leagues and I think it would be a good idea of they give the promoted teams a fixture in Croke Park next year,” stated Lynch.
“Obviously, the teams who are promoted from Division Two, Three and Four look forward to a day out in Croke Park, but those league finals won’t get played this year. Why not play the games between the promoted teams from this year in Croke Park next year?
“Let’s say if we go up along with Limerick, play our game next season in Croke Park as a double header with, for example Cork versus Down in Division Two if they go up.
“It might not mater as much to the teams who get promoted to Division One as they might get to play Dublin in Croke Park but they could still play the likes of Armagh versus Roscommon at Croke Park as well. I’m sure the teams wouldn’t mind giving up home advantage – I know we wouldn’t anyway.”
The Saffron skipper also called on the GAA to uphold their commitment to completing the leagues, stressing that, for teams like Antrim, the league is the pinnacle of their season.
“We’ve always said it, the league is our Championship,” added Lynch.
“The GAA are making the right noises by saying they want to get the games that mean something finished and get them completed. I hope they don’t backtrack on that.
“Obviously people’s health is the most important thing. Hopefully, they will look after the so-called smaller counties because the only way we can improve as a county is to try and move up the leagues. We need to have the leagues finished.”
It remains unclear when it will be safe for contact sport of resume and it appears likely there will be strict limitations on sport when it does return.
Last week, the Irish government banned all mass gathering of more than 5,000 people until at least the end of August, meaning that any county games which take place before then might have to take place behind closed doors.
There are also concerns that players in the North could be left behind in terms of when counties are permitted to resume collective training.
Lynch revealed that a conference call with the GPA (Gaelic Players Association) highlighted worries that teams in the Republic could have their restrictions lifted with the Stormont Executive likely to be slower to lift the terms of the lockdown.
“We had conference call with the GPA last week and all the county captains were involved,” said Lynch.
“Eoin Donnelly (Fermanagh) raised the point that the Irish government could relax restrictions and teams are back training, yet the Stormont Executive haven’t relaxed their policy. We’ve two governments in place one island so that’s a tricky issue.
“That would lead to the southern counties having an advantage. That’s another obstacle and it is likely to happen as we are likely to run at least a week behind to what is happening down South.
“A week, especially after coming out of lockdown, could be a huge advantage.”
While Lynch and the Antrim squad have no control over when they will return to action, they joined forces with their hurling counterparts and the Antrim county board to make a £6,000 donation to food banks in the county.
The man behind the idea was Glenavy’s Paddy Gallagher who pitched the idea to Lynch in a telephone conversation between the pair last month. They asked their colleagues to donate their expenses to the cause and Conor McCann (Antrim hurling captain) helped coordinate a similar gesture from the hurling squad.
Together, both panels raised £3,000 and that figure was then matched by the Antrim county board with food banks in Belfast, Randalstown and Ballycastle benefitting from the generosity of the Saffron Gaels.
Lynch, who recently recovered after contracting the Covid-19 virus himself, paid tribute to Gallagher for the idea and to the county board for matching their tally and urged other counties to follow Antrim’s lead in helping those in need.
“To be fair, the main people behind the idea was Paddy Gallagher,” said Lynch.
“I was chatting about stuff and he said what about donating our nutrition expenses to food banks around Antrim.
“I thought it was a great idea. He went and spoke to the county board and I spoke to the management and we liaised the Conor McCann from the hurling squad.
“We left it open to the players who were in a position to make a donation that they could.
“It would be great to see other counties doing something similar and I know there are a lot of people who are raising money for different causes.
“There are people out there who are in a bad situation and are vulnerable. We wanted to do something small and to play our part to help those in need. You have to also give credit to the county board for matching what we donated.”