comment The saga of the 2020 All-Ireland Championships remind me of those pioneering days and hiccups in space travel
THOSE of us of a certain vintage have childhood memories of the US space launches from what was then known as Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) in Florida. From a studio in RTE the late Kevin O’Kelly kept the nation informed of all the latest hiccups.
And there were always hiccups – bad weather, technical faults, and lots more besides. What we didn’t fully appreciate in our childhood innocence is that this was a deadly serious business which had cost a lot of lives.
The saga of the 2020 All-Ireland championships reminds me of those pioneering days in space travel. Nothing is certain and woe betide the GAA if things go wrong over the next two months.
There are enough storm clouds gathering already to suggest that this will not be a comfortable mission.
There are confirmed Covid-19 cases in the Offaly and Antrim hurling squads – which saw the Faithful County concede a walkover to Kildare in the opening round of the Christy Ring Cup – and the Roscommon football panel.
However, Waterford have officially accepted Antrim's offer to refix their Allianz Division Four game for tomorrow in Dundalk at 2pm, having initially forfeited it because it was being played in the Six Counties.
Equally worrying for the GAA was the warning delivered to them by the Gaelic Players Association CEO Paul Flynn who, in a note to his members, said their National Executive ‘cannot support’ the championships going ahead unless a range of measures are implemented.
The trickiest – and most expensive to implement – request was that baseline testing of all inter-county panels be done at the earliest date possible. The other two requests are straightforward and ought not to present any difficulties.
The GPA want (1) robust match day travel guidelines that protect the player’s welfare while adhering to Covid-19 guidelines and (2) All county boards and the GAA Central Council take full responsibility for and ensuring that the training and playing environment is fully compliant with the Covid-19 protocols.
And the GPA wants action before the final round of matches in the Allianz League on Saturday and Sunday.
At this point there is little merit in discussing the decision to proceed with the championship even though the country is effectively in lock-down.
The All-Ireland series is being treated as a special case, as is professional elite sport.
Categorising amateur GAA players as ‘essential workers’ is questionable to put it mildly. The GAA were either very brave or very foolish to proceed, though in the end they were effectively bounced into the decision by a dysfunctional government.
It’s funny that a comment attributed to the late Fianna Fail Minister Seamus Brennan has come back to bite the GAA. During Coalition talks between his party and the Green Party in 2007 Brennan told the Green delegation ‘You’re playing senior hurling now lads’.
As wily as the GAA are, they lack the Machiavellian streak needed to match the politics practised by the Leo Varadkar wing of the government.
The Tánaiste was singularly responsible for making sure the GAA were caught in the eye of the storm.
On two occasions he undermined NPHET's position by stating that the All-Ireland series could not go ahead if the country moved to Level 5.
When the Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath repeated this assertion on Primetime it looked as if it was fate accompli. However, on Monday, the government accepted the NPHET recommendation that the senior championship could go ahead as scheduled even with Level 5 restrictions being imposed.
They probably figured they had delivered enough bad news for one day. But it meant the GAA became the lightning rod for much of the fall-out from the decision to impose a second lockdown.
These days the news cycle is akin to space travel due to the speed it moves at. The critics moved on.
But the GAA cannot afford to make a mistake in their handling of Covid-19 in the next eight weeks. And it’s not just on match day.
The tradition of a team drowning their sorrows after they exit the championship with an all-day drinking session will have to be abandoned and hopefully any trophies presented to provincial-winning teams will be locked away before the players leave the ground.
We are due for launch on Saturday night when Dublin meet Laois in the Leinster hurling championship in an empty Croke Park.
But don't expect an incident-free Covid-19 competition from there to the scheduled All-Ireland final day date on Saturday, December 19.