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gaa lockdown John Maughan ‘torn’ by thrill of job and fear of virus


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Concerned: Offaly manager John Maughan would not be surprised if the date for the resumption of inter-county training was delayed. Photo: Sportsfile

Concerned: Offaly manager John Maughan would not be surprised if the date for the resumption of inter-county training was delayed. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Concerned: Offaly manager John Maughan would not be surprised if the date for the resumption of inter-county training was delayed. Photo: Sportsfile

Welcome to the conflicted world of the inter-county manager. John Maughan is gearing up for a return to Offaly training from Friday week - and yet, deep down, he thinks it won't happen.

The festering curse of Covid - or, more specifically, the "absolutely sky-high" case numbers that have turned Ireland's third wave into a tsunami - has Maughan worried all over again.

It's now over three decades since, propelled into management by injury, he took over Clare. By 1992, he had turned minnows into Munster champions; since then he has seen it all, managed in all four provinces.

But even for this great survivor, 2020 was entirely new. And now, in a Groundhog Day repeat only eased by the tantalising future reality of a vaccinated nation, the virus threatens more carnage on the GAA calendar.

"I'm torn," Maughan readily admits, "because I can understand why there might be a little bit of dismay within the community, particularly those that are forced into lockdown - and many, many are.

Threatened

"There's a huge issue regarding the schools in particular. And here, on the flip side, you see inter-county footballers being allowed to travel from all parts of the country, outside the 5km lockdown which is threatened to be reduced to 2km, to convene for inter-county training on the 15th.

"Now I know that some of the counties have broken the regulations and have reconvened," he adds.

Already?

"Yeah, I'd be aware of that. But that's none of my business; we certainly haven't broken any of the regulations.

"But I can understand the difficulty for certain cohorts of the community and society that are looking at inter-county footballers being classified as elite professional sports - and being allowed and facilitated to train - when other elements of society cannot do anything. Gyms closed, swimming pools closed, all that kind of leisure activity locked down.

"I'm a little bit torn," he reiterates, "because I'm kind of anxious myself to get back and I'm missing it. And I know the Offaly footballers I've been communicating with are missing it, they're ready to rock and roll … but, as of now, I would be surprised if we're back on the 15th. And I can understand perfectly if I hear an announcement in the next 24-48 hours, or next week, to say, 'No, it's cancelled.'"

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Offaly manager John Maughan during his time in charge of Mayo. Photo: Sportsfile

Offaly manager John Maughan during his time in charge of Mayo. Photo: Sportsfile

Offaly manager John Maughan during his time in charge of Mayo. Photo: Sportsfile

But whereas Maughan is "anticipating" a postponement, he is philosophical on the medium-term impact. The flagged late February start date for the Allianz Leagues can be pushed back a week or two, he believes, without destroying the best-laid plans.

While only speaking for Offaly and how they previously applied protocols, the veteran boss says: "I cannot see any imminent danger in allowing teams to return, because we were so, so particular - temperatures taken of every single individual, all sorts of restrictions, food being handed out the window individually, pre-prepared, no convergence of any kind, one person into the physio or to the medical staff, all that mask-wearing. And there were no breakouts. So, this is the million-dollar question - should it be allowed or should it not?

"I want to go back - but at the same time I can understand there's elements of society that don't want to see inter-county activity on the 15th.

"It's a shortened league campaign this year, with groups of four, so I don't see any reason (against) if they wanted to shove it out another week or two. I know they have a weekend or two free in the calendar to allow for any contingencies, so maybe it might be an opportunity to explore that. I mean, if everyone is playing from the same level playing field, there should be no issue."

In these (still) unprecedented times, Maughan has no problem with the necessity for "fluid" arrangements.

"It's all about perceptions. I know I've got a couple of statements thrown at me, saying, 'Jesus, John, what the hell is so brilliant about ye guys being allowed back on the 15th when everything else is forced into lockdown?' And I can understand why those comments would be thrown in my direction."

A procurement officer with Mayo County Council, Maughan senses a "different edge" to this lockdown, a "nervousness about the place that I didn't witness in the previous Level 5. There's a greater tension … understandably. I mean, our numbers here in Mayo have rocketed."

And yet he harks back to last April, when he voiced a belief that the entire inter-county programme for 2020, men and women, all codes, should be scrapped. And he's happy to report that he got that one wrong.

"I don't know what the viewership figures were, but it was the only thing we had every weekend," he says. "And only for it, the sanity of the nation … it certainly kept things going.

"I was of the view, and many were like me, that it shouldn't have gone ahead. But I have to put my hand up and say, 'Thank God for it'."

Despite a few squad outbreaks, affecting the Offaly hurlers and Sligo footballers among others, the "bigger picture" is that it was a good call to proceed with a pared-back 2020 season. And now for 2021. When Offaly reconvene, will Niall McNamee still be involved?

"I haven't spoken to him directly other than exchanged greetings," his manager replies, but quickly adds: "I'd be very surprised if he did hang up the boots.

"He enjoys it thoroughly. He's in great physical shape as well … I was up at most of the club championship games in Offaly and he was the best forward in the county.

"Sure, he's remarkable. He's a finisher. And all he needs is that half-chance and bang! A super fella to have around the squad."

Whenever that squad next meets could be anyone's guess.

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