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Covid-19 will change the GAA landscape forever - but it could be for the better

The Covid-19 pandemic could change the manner in which the GAA structures its competitions

The Covid-19 pandemic could change the manner in which the GAA structures its competitions

Sean McGoldrick

War-time British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is credited with coining the phrase ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’.

Even Donald Trump, who claims to know more than the experts, can’t tell us when the Covid-19 pandemic will pass or what shape the world will be left in.

Though there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic, there is cause for hope as well.

The end of the World War I coincided with the outbreak of the Spanish Flu, killing millions. The subsequent decade turned into the Roaring Twenties.

So, our forefathers didn’t waste the crisis caused by the first global war or indeed the pandemic that followed. In Ireland, the new State was established and survived against hefty odds.

Things will be different whenever the new normal kicks in – not least in the GAA.

By the time the Association celebrates the 150 th anniversary of its foundation in 2034 they will be doing things much differently.

The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic will have been the catalyst which initiated these changes.

There is no going back to the old ways, where spending on inter-county teams topped €30m last year while club football and hurling were treated with near disdain.

Unless the pandemic fades away as dramatically, as the Spanish flu did in the spring of 1919, the chances are that next year’s GAA season will be disrupted.

The Allianz Football League may be played on a regional basis, which will eliminate the need for long-distance journeys such as Donegal's trip to Tralee last weekend.

But more profound changes are coming.

Having resisted the idea for decades, GAA stakeholders now accept the need for a split county/club season. The principle has been established, so now it’s down to the sorting out the details.

The football championship could run in the spring

The football championship could run in the spring

Essentially, it boils down to whether the inter-county season begins in February and ends in June or July, with the rest of the year devoted to club activity. Maybe it will be the opposite: club activity in the spring followed by the inter-county season.

There is a third option, which I have advocated for many years. It addresses one of the legitimate concerns the GAA has about the split club-county season.

Regardless of whether the All-Ireland series is played in the spring or the fall, it will result in the association’s showcase product disappearing from the shop window – i.e. television – for half the year.

At a time when the TV screens are dominated by soccer and rugby virtually all year round, this is a well-founded concern.

Other than tradition, there is no underlying reason why the All-Ireland hurling and football championships must be played alongside one another.

So, my solution is to schedule the Allianz Football League and All-Ireland football championship in the spring alongside the club hurling competitions.

Then, from mid-summer onwards, the National Hurling League and the All-Ireland hurling championships could be played in tandem with club football.

So, for nine months of the year there would be top class inter-county games on TV - and it is the gate receipts and TV revenue from these games that finance the GAA.

Regardless of the timing of the new look season in future, the provincial championship will be played in a shorter time-frame.

Not as hurried as this year - where only Peter Keane’s Kerry have a two-week break between all of their scheduled matches right up to the All-Ireland final - but no more leisurely saunters though half the summer playing only a handful of games.

The problem with the GAA in the last 20 years is that is has become a training rather than a playing-based sports organisation.

A two-week break between matches is more than adequate, as it would allow replays to be take place – though penalty shoot-outs will have to be retained.

Economic circumstances will dictate that there is less money to spend – or waste – on team preparations in the first half of the new decade

The infamous spring training camps in Spain and Portugal, or even the weekend bonding sessions in Irish hotels, could become a thing of the past.

Maybe this century’s decadent decade has just happened.

Going forward, the GAA will be a leaner, more focused organisation. Reforms that would have taken years to implement have happened overnight.

As they say, 'it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good'.

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