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Arguments that playing county football is putting players' health at risk is more fake news

Forget naysayers and doom-merchants - having live inter-county football back will aid nation's well-being

Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton makes a last-ditch save from Barry Dardis of Meath

Pat Spillane

Hooray. Finally, after the longest six months in my life, county football is back.

Being a positive person I'm optimistic that the All-Ireland series will start and finish as planned in 2020.

Let's address some of the negativity surrounding the return of top-class football and hurling.

Some commentators suggest no sport should be played now due to growing number of confirmed Covid-19 cases.

I completely disagree. We need sport now more than ever.

Mattie Donnelly (right) and Tyrone have two tough clashes with Donegal on the way. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

What's the alternative? Back to cocooning with the resultant increases in the incidents of anxiety, stress, and depression.

Two of the biggest issues in rural Ireland are isolation and loneliness.

I have spoken to many older people who cannot wait for the return of county football.

The continuance of live sport - even without spectators - is vital for the nation's well-being. Fans will gladly watch it on television.

The famous American football coach Vince Lombardi once said that it's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up.

The GAA championship is Ireland 'getting up.' What we need now in this crazy world is some sense of normality. Seeing the All-Ireland series will help this process.

Arguments that playing county football is putting players' health at risk is more fake news.

Let's be blunt. GAA players are not professionals - it is not their job to play county football. They can walk away at any time.

Donegal boss Declan Bonner could field a shadow team against Kerry. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

So far in this crisis the GAA has played a blinder in controlling the controllables. Player welfare is at the forefront of return-to-play protocols.

I don't accept either that the championship will be devalued if a county is forced to pull out.

An All-Ireland medal is an All-Ireland medal, full stop. Ands, buts and maybes don't count.

Take the 1941 All-Ireland hurling championship.

I never heard anybody suggesting that medals secured by Christy Ring or Jack Lynch were devalued because Kilkenny and Tipperary were forced to pull out of their respective provincial championships that summer due to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

Nevertheless, we are heading into a new normal. The rest of the league as well as the championship will be different.

I don't agree with all the protocols in place.

Given that the current nationwide restrictions, I believe the remaining two rounds of the league should have been played at neutral venues.

Scheduling matches at neutral venues would enable teams to travel to and from them on the same day.

It would save money and county boards are short of cash these days.

The distances several teams must travel this weekend makes no sense.

It is a 500-mile round trip between Killarney and Inniskeen in county Monaghan, where Kerry were in action at the weekend.

Even though they are already relegated Louth had to make the long journey to Cork while Sligo faced a long trek to Carlow.

Given that all the remaining league games will be played behind closed doors, I don't think home advantage will count for much.

The other concern surrounds the integrity of the final round of the league which is scheduled for a week before the provincial championships start at the end of the month.

It runs the risk of being devalued, because a lot of teams will have nothing to play for and could field shadow sides.

Donegal's victory over Tyrone secured their place in the top flight. So why would Declan Bonner field a full-strength side for what would be a meaningless game against Kerry next Saturday.

Instead, he will focus on their make-or-break Ulster championship game against Tyrone on November 1.

It will be interesting to see how the absence of crowds impact on games.

Judging by what has been happening in the Premier League, games will be less intense. Players will be willing to take more risks, knowing their actions won't meet with the disapproval of the crowd.

Some of the stats from this season's Premier League make interesting reading. There have been more goals scored in the top flight than at any time since 1930.

Referees are awarding more penalties to the away teams and all but two of the 25 penalties have been converted.

And what's most interesting is that there have been more away than home wins so far in the new Premier League season.

The other lessons from both rugby and soccer is that due to the shorter pre-season, allied to the packed schedule of matches, players are getting tired earlier in games.

More players are getting injured more frequently and there is little time to devise new games plans and tactics. Something to consider for county team managers.

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