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under fire I make no apologies for challenging the 'fake news' that exists in relation to the GAA and Covid-19

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Conor McManus of Monaghan and Bryan Menton of Meath fist bump following their Allianz Football League clash

Conor McManus of Monaghan and Bryan Menton of Meath fist bump following their Allianz Football League clash

SPORTSFILE

Conor McManus of Monaghan and Bryan Menton of Meath fist bump following their Allianz Football League clash

As a GAA pundit for nearly 30 years I am only too aware of the pitfalls associated with the role. It is probably the best job to have if you want to gain enemies and lose friends.

In recent times, however, I have changed my mind. Commenting on Covid-19 comes with an even more extreme health warning.

People are entrenched in two opposing camps. There is no middle ground and boy are the keyboard warriors ready to launch their attacks. I can testify to that.

So let's get a few things straight.

I welcome the government's decision to move the country to Level 5.

The decision was evidence-based, but, most importantly, the government provided hope at the end by stressing that, by adhering to the new guidelines, the Level 5 restrictions would end after six weeks.

My views on Covid-19 are well known but just for the record I will repeat them. Up until a vaccine is found the virus is not going away. We are living with a new normal and we must balance risk with reward.

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Con O'Callaghan of Dublin scores his side's second goal against Galway

Con O'Callaghan of Dublin scores his side's second goal against Galway

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Con O'Callaghan of Dublin scores his side's second goal against Galway

The reality is that once you step out of bed there are risks.

I have also been consistent in my views that the country needs an escape valve from the stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness that's all around.

This is why sport is so important and is the reason why we need the All-Ireland Championship to be played. It is our way out.

I make no apologies for challenging the false narratives that exist in relation to the GAA and Covid-19.

Of course, the celebrations which took place in many counties after county finals were wrong, irresponsible and gave the two fingers to society and the government regulations.

Let's be clear that they happened in a minority of GAA clubs. However, the narrative suggests that they were primarily responsible for the second wave of Covid-19.

This is simply not the case. What about the house parties, Holy Communion parties, incidents in meat factories and the hundreds of shebeens which were allowed to operate all over the country?

There has been no national outcry about these activities. Instead, the anti-GAA brigade seized on those few cases and engaged in wholesale GAA-bashing. It was not just an easy target, it was the wrong target.

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Meath's Ronan Jones in action against Ryan Wylie of Monaghan

Meath's Ronan Jones in action against Ryan Wylie of Monaghan

SPORTSFILE

Meath's Ronan Jones in action against Ryan Wylie of Monaghan

And let's challenge a few other narratives. When Westmeath's John Heslin sent out his tweet about the feasibility of playing the championship, all hell broke loose. Of course he's entitled to make his comments.

But a false crisis was created around his tweet. It led to suggestions that inter-county players didn't want to play and their health was being jeopardised by the GAA insisting that the championship would go ahead.

This was a fatally flawed and one-sided story and it was compounded by the fact that most TV and radio stations wheeled out other anti-championship campaigners. So we got a one-sided version of what was really happening.

It was only when the results of the GPA ballot was revealed that we got a proper picture. Even then, some commentators insisted on putting a negative spin on the figures

For example, one TV report said that only 51 per cent of players wanted to play the championship. They could have said that only 24 per cent of players didn't want to play.

The results of the GPA survey were interesting and informative, though they were a bit late coming to the table. The Kerry players were already on their way to Monaghan for their league game by the time the results came out.

And, incidentally, when the inter-county players voted in the survey the GAA's new protocols surrounding rapid testing hadn't been published.

Two clear messages did emerge, however. There is an appetite among the players to participate in the championships but they want to see improvement made to the implementation of coronavirus protocols and arrangements.

This issue arose with the Leitrim football team, as there was confusion about the availability of rapid testing.

I saw the regulations being implemented at first-hand when I attended the Cork v Louth NFL game last Saturday. It was a first-class operation and the players played in a very safe environment.

The reality is that over the coming weeks GAA players are going to be operating in as safe, controlled and managed environment as could be found anywhere in the country.

And now I'd like to deliver a little ticking off to three GAA members for comments they made over the weekend.

Firstly, David Power, the Tipperary football manager who accused Leitrim of damaging the integrity of the league by pulling out of their match against Down.

This was a wrong and mean-spirited comment. As I said on television last Sunday night when I initially heard the news I thought it was a stroke, and they could have easily found 15 players.

But on mature reflection I think Leitrim made the right call. There is an awful lot of fear and anxiety out there surrounding Covid-19.

Nobody outside the county knows the individual details. For example, were players living with elderly parents, frontline workers or with somebody who has an underlying medical condition.

Fermanagh boss Ryan McMenamin suggested there were two tiers in the GAA and those counties in Tier 2 were treated unfairly.

Credit to Fermanagh for fulfilling the fixture against Clare but as regards being treated unfairly because they are a small county, there is no evidence to back up that assertion.

And, finally, Louth football captain Bevan Duffy had a pop in an interview on Monday.

Scapegoats

He claimed that ex-GAA players who are now working in the media are driving the agenda . This is a load of cobblers. We are simply offering our opinion and have no hand, act or part in making the decision. We are the wrong scapegoats.

He is entitled to his views and I accept there is concern among some inter-county players.

They are not professional footballers and they were not being forced to play. It is a hobby they can give up in the morning if they wish.

It was such a pleasure to see inter-county football last weekend.

Look at the highlights: David Clifford in full flow, a couple of majestic points from Conor McManus, that magnificent catch from Aidan O'Shea over Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh's head, the brilliance of Mayo's attacking football in the first half.

The list is numerous. Suffice to say that those memories will live with me for a while.

So let's sit back and enjoy the entertainment our top-class inter-county players will provide us with in the coming weeks and spare us the false narratives, the fake news, the GAA-bashing and the 'them against us' scenarios.

Just think of the immortal words of John F Kennedy 'ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country'.

Let's all wear that green jersey and act responsibly.


Sunday World


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