After a 13-week lockdown, the GAA yesterday announced that its grounds will re-open on Wednesday, five days earlier than initially intended. It follows the easing of government restrictions on Friday and the latest recommendations from the Covid-19 Advisory Committee that met yesterday morning.
The previous reopening date for clubs was June 29.
From Wednesday, adult teams will be allowed train on a non-contact basis, on the understanding that they follow strict protocols, with minor and all juvenile teams granted permission to return on Saturday.
All teams will be allowed to resume full contact training and play challenge matches from June 29 but logging of attendance and sanitising protocols will remain in place.
The other significant announcement, made jointly by the GAA, the Camogie Association and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association, is the approval of a return to club competition from Friday, July 17, two weeks ahead of the original schedule on the GAA’s roadmap to recovery.
There has been no change to the proposed inter-county return dates, with September 14 earmarked for the resumption of training and October 17 as the starting point for competition. That stretches the club competition window from 11 to 13 weeks.
In order to return to training club players and mentors need to have completed an e-learning module and a health questionnaire. Before full contact is allowed on June 29, all training sessions will have an upper limit of 15 players in any single group in the 26 counties, with a maximum of 10 permitted in the six counties north of the border.
The GAA said it was “awaiting guidance” from the Northern Ireland Executive in relation to forming proposals for the six counties around contact training.
Restrictions on non-participants at training will also be relaxed from June 29. From then on a maximum of 200 people may be allowed in each ground which is in line with government guidelines. In recent weeks club volunteers have been familiarising themselves with obligations and measures put in place for a return to activity, including the appointment of designated Covid-19 officers in each club.
Teams have been resuming training activity outside of club grounds – some in Offaly even used bogs – despite the fact that they were not covered by the GAA’s insurance scheme. They were not breaching any laws provided they maintained the required social distance and took the relevant precautions.
For now, club dressing rooms remain closed until July 20, and the Advisory Committee is in the process of deciding what approach to take with other GAA buildings such as club bars, gyms, hurling walls and handball alleys. Guidance on this is expected before June 29 and these restrictions may also be eased.
Yesterday’s news followed the announcement by GAA of its Return To Play roadmap published on June 5 and will be welcomed by club players and mentors.
The earlier return to competition allows county committees an extra two weeks to schedule fixtures before the county season resumes. Already the matter has sparked controversy with some counties deemed to be over-compressing their schedules in order to allow county teams longer preparation for October.
Liam Griffin, a prominent member of the Club Players’ Association, said that the GAA at national level needed to hold county boards accountable.
He said that any perception that county committees were favouring inter-county interests in not making full use of the current window would “further undermine the GAA in the eyes of the ordinary club player.”
Griffin added: “If what the GAA has called for is not being carried out, and it is not being carried out because you have 32 independent republics doing it their way, then what is the point if it cannot be enforced?”
The AFL has confirmed a first Covid-19 case among its players, with Tyrone’s Conor McKenna testing positive. The former Tyrone player, now with Essendon, had been back in Ireland during the pandemic and is reported to have tested negative for the virus five times before the positive test yesterday.
Sunday Indo Sport