Can the GAA avoid bursting the “Covid” Bubble

Mid-January, 10 months into restrictions, lockdowns, opening up, locking down again, level 5 back to 2 up to 3 over to Level 5 plus (Still not sure if “plus” is actually a level but it has been added to the highest level possible, to make it higher !!)

During all of this, sport stopped, it changed, it returned, it moved on.

“Elite” was added to the professional competitions, bubbles were formed, games were played behind closed doors, and regular testing became the norm for competitors.

When we think professional, we think soccer, rugby, tennis, golf and other wide varieties of disciplines.

They provide a living to those who partake at the highest level, and entertainment to those of us who follow them. Been given the title “Elite” was more than acceptable.

GAA is our sport, yes it takes in many variations, but football and hurling are the main focus with the biggest participation. At inter-county level (and with some clubs) it is and remains an amateur sport, played at a professional level.

Something that even the association had to accept when it was included in the “Elite” bracket to ensure the league could be completed and the 2020 championship played.

Having hosted five rounds of the league competition at the start of last year, prior to lockdown 1, the action returned on the 17th of October after a summer of no activity.

The remaining two rounds confirmed promotion and relegation. League winners were crowned as those who topped their divisional table, the games also acted as the perfect preparation for the one bite at the cherry championship that was to follow.

It all worked out, the leagues complete, teams up and down, history will note the winners and the championship came and went. For eight weeks it was a distraction, a return to some level of normality.

Yes games were behind closed doors, celebrations were muted, panels were reduced, the optic of the game changed, but they happened, they took place, we had winners and losers and something to talk about.

Those conversations surrounding games is set to return next month with the Allianz league scheduled to get underway on February 27th.

Changes have been made to the format of the competition with regionalized groupings within the league tables to minimize the movement of teams around the country.

A sensible decision but is it fair?

Will it compromise the league and de-value it in any way?

More importantly with the current Covid-19 situation, is it necessary to have teams firstly gathering for collective training and then crisscrossing the region to play games?

It is a conundrum facing the association at the moment. They’ve already taken the decision to delay the return of training for inter-county teams, but this memo does not seem to have reached Down or Cork just yet (Mind you are they alone on this front, or just unfortunate to have been caught).

Professional sports are already looking at taking a break. Rugby one of the first to make a move as they put the Champions cup on hold.

In Motorsport the Grand Prix season has seen its season opener re-scheduled, there is murmurings that the premier league may consider a break as the number of Covid-19 positive cases continues to rise, where it’s getting to the point, that games are been postponed and indeed some clubs are been forced to field underage teams in cup competitions.

If the “Bubble” for these professional sports is been burst, how can the GAA ensure their professional approach to an amateur sport is Covid tight?

The association certainly must take credit for the way the inter-county season was run off last year, with no major Covid-19 issues surrounding games been reported.

It was unfortunate that Sligo could not fulfil their fixture in the Connacht championship due to a number of Covid cases in the panel, while a similar fate befell the Offaly hurling team, who were involved in a round robin series of games in their championship, but considering all the teams and personal who were involved across the country, it could certainly be termed a successful run off.

However Covid-19 has not gone away and seems to be more prevalent now, than back in the summer of 2020.

Tougher restrictions reside, stay at home, no travel beyond 5km from your home, work from home if at all possible, don’t visit any other home unless for essential reasons.

“Home” is the key word, the Allianz National Football league operates on a home and away bases. Even within your own county playing at home could involve a journey well above the 5kms.

Is a Division 1 league clash with the All-Ireland champions really essential?

Whatever about giving the elite title to counties to be able to train and travel and prepare for the league, is it even financially feasible?

One Division 3 team, have highlighted that it could cost them up to €200,000 to just compete in the competition with nothing in return, bar a promotion should they get it or heaven forbid a relegation to the lowest tier.

Do we need the league?

Do we want the league?

Is it safe to host it?

Is there time and space to move it?

The GAA have a number of questions to answer over the next few days and weeks.

The answer isn’t there at the moment, it is set to start at the end of February, but teams can’t begin to prepare just yet, maybe they will be asking the question

“Is it worth it?”