PÁDRAIC MAHER feels “as safe as ever” training with the Tipperary hurlers, even as positive Covid-19 cases keep popping up in different counties on the cusp of championship.
The multi-decorated Tipp defender was speaking on the same day that the Gaelic Players Association expressed growing concern about player safety.
“If steps are not taken immediately to implement testing, to introduce appropriate travel guidelines and to ensure full compliance with the existing protocols, the NEC (of the GPA) cannot support the continuation of the 2020 season,” an email to members warned.
However, Maher, who works on the frontline as a Limerick-based Garda, is fully satisfied with Tipperary’s strict observance of protocols.
“Personally, I feel as safe as ever going in around the Tipperary camp, training every Tuesday and Friday,” he said. “We fill out our questionnaires before we go into training, we wear our masks, we get our temperature checked, social distancing is adhered to before we get onto the pitch. We go into training togged out and we have our showers at home, that’s basically it. We eat at home as well.
“We are used to it from the club championship,” he added, “and again inside with Tipperary it has gone up a notch.
“We are trying to look after each other as best we can and that is all we can do because a lot of lads are teaching in schools, there are a few of us working on the front line so we have to look after each other.
“There will be bumps along the road, but we have to give ourselves the best possible opportunity.”
Tipperary will launch their All-Ireland SHC defence in a Munster semi-final on Sunday week, facing the winners of this Sunday’s meeting of Limerick and Clare.
No one could have predicted that their quest for that elusive back-to-back would become ensnared in a global pandemic, but then Tipperary had early experience of just how disruptive this virus can be.
Back in March, Liam Sheedy’s panel jetted out to Spain for a warm-weather training camp. While they were in the Costa Blanca, the Irish Government imposed the first nationwide lockdown, leading to an immediate cessation of all GAA activity.
When the Tipp players flew home, they had to restrict their movements for the next 14 days.
“That seems like a long time ago now. We played the league game (against Galway) and went out to Spain. We had a really good camp and, God, we didn't know what we were really coming back to,” Maher admitted.
“It kind of hit us over on the Wednesday or the Thursday that things were getting serious … I think Cheltenham was on that week and we were kind of following it through our sessions, we'd have it on the telly over at the camp, and we were just saying that a lot of people were giving out about it.
“We just thought when we came home that we might be facing into a two or three-week kind of thing, that we might all have to lay low for a few weeks and that that would be it.
“We didn't realise it was going to get this serious. Ireland changed a lot from when we went out that Monday morning to when we came back the following Friday night.
“It was very strange,” he added. “We thought we were preparing for the first round of the championship in six weeks' time. We didn't expect this.”
Upon their return, Maher and his colleagues, including younger brother Ronan, “had to lie low for two weeks. Thankfully we were all okay, but lads had to go and get digs to isolate.
“Obviously myself and Ronan were in the same boat so we rang our mother on the Thursday and said, 'Are you happy for us to come home or do you want us to go missing for two weeks?' Like every Irish mammy she was happy; she said, 'Come home, don't be stupid.’ She just looked after herself for the two weeks as well. We just kind of kept ourselves to ourselves in the house.”
Seven months on, we are now in Lockdown II but with one crucial difference: we can still see our elite GAA stars in action.
“It is tough going but it tough on everyone,” the three-time All-Ireland winner reflected. “We have to do what we can do and try and help everyone in the community the best we can. People will be frustrated, and they have every reason to be frustrated but all we can do is to try and get through it together.
“At least this time round there is the GAA matches to look forward so, as well as the live soccer and the live rugby.
“It is a bit of a help and does give some people a lift. It gives us all something to talk about. Even at work there are lads talking about the Limerick v Clare game on Sunday, so it gives you something to look forward to and there are some positives to this negative situation.”