Dublin training session a fresh headache for GAA as they close in on return to play date

IT’S BEEN A week of contrasting GAA developments.

Tuesday evening brought some welcome news for GAA chiefs that inter-county senior teams had received the green light to resume collective training from 19 April.

Seven days after that on 26 April, underage outdoor sessions in small pods of up to 15 can be held again.

The easing of restrictions didn’t provide certainty for county minor and U20 teams, it continues to see club players stuck in a waiting game before they can train again and there’s no clear roadmap for the GAA on the fixtures front for 2021.

But it was a positive after a turbulent start to the year and pointed to hope that they could get their games back up and running in the coming months.

Then the news has started to turn.

The GAA issued a reminder to counties and clubs in the wake of Tuesday’s Government announcement to be mindful of those return to train dates and to avoid the temptation to rush back before then.

On Tuesday night, the Irish Examiner reported that Gardaí were investigating possible breaches of Covid-19 regulations with training sessions held by a club in West Cork.

This morning the Irish Independent have reported that nine of Dublin All-Ireland winning team gathered for a collective session in Innisfails GAA club yesterday morning for a non-contact session, accompanied with photographs of their kickaround.

The club in Balgriffin has long been utilised during the successful run enjoyed by the Dublin footballers.

“Innisfails wouldn’t be one of those illustrious names normally associated with Dublin GAA, hidden away in the junior ranks on the fringes of the city, out in that no-man’s land between the airport and the concrete sprawl,” wrote Bernard Brogan in the opening chapter of his autobiography ‘The Hill’.

For Dublin to hold a training gathering at the pitch on Carrs Lane is not unusual but these are not typical times and this session will spark a more heated reaction.

It is a thorny issue for the GAA to grapple with. They have come down hard already this year on county managers who found themselves in hot water when defying training bans. Cork manager Ronan McCarthy and his Down counterpart Paddy Tally were both slapped with suspensions on the back of their team gatherings in January, at a time when Covid-19 numbers had escalated to alarmingly high levels.

Cork boss Ronan McCarthy.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Down boss Paddy Tally

Source: Philip Magowan/INPHO

What will the official response be now to a training session held by the biggest and best team in the country, who have set the benchmark in Gaelic football for the past decade?

On the one hand it will be argued as to what harm was done by the training session. It took place in an outdoor setting, proven to be safer in terms of the transmission of the virus, the photographs point to all the players socially-distancing and there are clear benefits for group physical exercise.

Anecdotally it would seem not too dissimilar to scenes being played out in public parks around the country amongst smaller numbers over recent weeks with the improvement in the weather. After months confined indoors, the clamour for a shift to outdoor life has grown louder.

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But that indifference amongst some at it being regarded as front page national news will be countered by those who see the GAA as getting preferential treatment over the last while.

The celebratory scenes in the wake of the club finals around the country last autumn provoked fury in some quarters. That inter-county teams were approved on Tuesday for a return to training is not something that is widely welcomed. Gaelic football and hurling may be national sports but they’re not followed avidly by everyone in the nation.

With people still out of work and other services still shut, there will be frustration that the GAA was seemingly placed at the head of the queue in activities that are seeking to return to normal. This story adds to it and for those outside the association it may feed into the notion that the GAA continue to bend the rules during the Covid crisis.

For the GAA at national level the reaction will be interesting given the profile of the team and players involved. They are still trying to figure out what formats to put in place for their senior leagues and championships this year. Examining the calendar seemed their main current focus with the new fixtures plan due to be announced at the end of next week but this is an added complication.

On Tuesday the GAA warned teams that early returns to training would potentially put the return to play ‘in serious jeopardy’.

This morning they expressed ‘frustration and extreme disappointment’ over the reports and will ‘invoke any necessary disciplinary processes as appropriate’.

It remains to be seen if this affects the hopes to get everything up and running again in a few weeks.

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