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'If there's a way to play the league and championship, we should' - Derry boss Gallagher optimistic for 2021 season

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Derry manager Rory Gallagher is hoping the Covid crisis abates and that the GAA can eventually return to play games, at both club and county level. Photo: Sportsfile

Derry manager Rory Gallagher is hoping the Covid crisis abates and that the GAA can eventually return to play games, at both club and county level. Photo: Sportsfile

Derry manager Rory Gallagher is hoping the Covid crisis abates and that the GAA can eventually return to play games, at both club and county level. Photo: Sportsfile

Derry football manager Rory Gallagher believes that there is still a way forward to play the National League whenever the Covid infection rate eases.

It is predicted by health professionals that the peak is yet to come.

On Sunday, the Northern Trust's chief executive, Jennifer Walsh, revealed that hospitals across Northern Ireland are working at 93pc capacity, while south of the border, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said hospitals were working at "surge capacity". This came at a time when 30 more patients were awaiting admission to Antrim Area Hospital.

Speaking on BBCNI's Sunday Politics programme, Walsh stated that the "ICU surge is yet to come" and that Antrim Area and Causeway Hospitals have been "under significant pressure and have been for some time".

This comes during a period when teams such as Down and Cork footballers have already been found to be contravening Covid guidelines and meeting up for training. The other issue is that without crowds attending games, there is no money readily available to prepare teams.

Derry's preparation costs for football and hurling can range from £13,000 (€14,500) to £20,000 (€22,500) per week. Gallagher has been working closely with the Derry County Board to be prudent.

"I can see it from both sides," he said. "It's funny, a number of weeks ago we had a meeting with the Derry chairman and the treasurer and I think they battened down the hatches big time when the previous lockdown hit and I think they were able to show a surplus (in their annual accounts).

"But every county is different. Every county has different costs with mileage and one thing and another. Cavan, with a number of players coming from Dublin alone, would be expensive."

He continued: "Ultimately, everybody wants to play football. At the end of the day, that has to be the major thing, everyone wants to play football in a safe environment. Nobody wants to throw in the towel.

"I accept it is classified as elite sport, but it is not a full-time job, the players and the managers all go to work.

"I think if there is a way possible to play championship and league, everybody wants to do it.

"It is a bit early to call it yet, but I think over time if things lift nationally, throughout the north and the south, people get back to work and kids get back to school, counties and clubs will want to go back to playing football."

Weary

In the age of Covid, the whole area of team preparation has altered entirely. This has been welcomed by many, especially players who might have grown weary of lengthy analysis meetings.

For a manager, it is challenging but, with his involvement with the Killybegs club in Donegal, Gallagher believes that everyone adapted very quickly to the 'new normal'.

"Things like the boys showering, meeting in dressing-rooms, we just effectively operated outside. We had meals outside and things like that. Players just got used to it," he said. "Thankfully, Derry players don't have huge journeys to get home to shower, so we were very happy with that protocol and we imagine that whenever the green light comes to get back playing, we would be following similar guidelines.

"I think everybody had a good grounding in that with the way the clubs were working as well. It is a small price to pay that you go home for your shower, just to get out training.

"I think the protocols were very good for the GAA. A few things were amplified after games, that's human nature and it happens throughout the world. But I think from a playing side and driving to games, rather than taking buses and that, the boys wearing masks, learning to work on video analysis through Zoom and whatever - it's not the way you would like to do it, but certainly a small sacrifice in order to get playing."

As things stand now, teams will be able to go back into collective training in a fortnight; however, that could be pushed back again.

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