The GAA may be forced to stage this summer’s senior intercounty football and hurling championships behind closed doors after the government confirmed on Tuesday that mass gatherings of over 5,000 people will not be permitted until September at the earliest.
The Association’s blue riband competitions were due to kick off at the beginning of May but those initial start dates have already been pushed back to July. This year’s All-Ireland football final, the game’s showpiece event which traditionally brings the curtain down on the GAA’s intercounty calendar, is currently scheduled for August 30, just before the current suspension of mass gatherings is slated to end.
Club activities are currently on hold until May 5 and while it is generally accepted that the club game will more than likely return before county, clubs are preparing for the possibility that the suspension could be extended further into the summer months.
Speaking to Thomas Niblock of the BBC on Tuesday, the GAA's communications director Alan Milton acknowledged that the association was considering the behind-closed-doors option.
"We have never envisaged a scenario where we would try and play our games without people in attendance. It defies logic and goes against the grain for so many people who volunteer for the GAA.
"Having said that, if we get to a scenario later in the year, where there are two choices on the table where one is a championship with no people and the other one is no championship, I think that would frame a very different conversation and a different narrative."
Those remarks came just hours before the latest government guidelines on mass gatherings came to light. It now appears as though Milton and the GAA’s hypothetical Catch-22 has become a reality.
Kerry and Dr Crokes legend Colm Cooper is one of a number of prominent GAA personalities to have expressed doubts about staging major championship matches without supporters.
“It's not for me,” Gooch said on RTÉ Radio 1 earlier this week.
"The essence of the GAA is people going to Thurles, Clones, Castlebar, Killarney, making their way down Jones' Road in Dublin. That's what makes the GAA, the atmosphere. At the moment we should be smelling the freshly cut grass, getting ready for championship. It's not sitting well with all of us, but I can't see how a successful GAA championship would go ahead behind closed doors.
"Can you imagine the climax of a championship and on final day, climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand for Liam MacCarthy or Sam Maguire and no supporters in the stadium? It certainly doesn't sit well with me as a supporter of the game.
"I can only imagine the players as well, driving through towns on the way to matches – I just don't see how it would work. I can't see how it would be a positive.”
A poll carried out by RTÉ indicated that 41% of the general public would be in favour of playing games behind closed doors. The remaining 59% think that this year’s championships should be called cancelled entirely.
Meanwhile, former GAA president Seán Kelly has urged administrators not to “throw in the towel” on the 2020 season just yet.
“We are only in the middle of April so why would you say you won't play a championship this year,” the Fine Gael MEP told the Irish Examiner. “You'll find, looking at other countries, there'll be quick changes, there'll be a return to normality, maybe, quicker than people think.”
Pic: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile.
Crokes hurlers set for senior championship bow
Sunday will be a momentous day for Dr Crokes GAA as the club’s hurlers are set to participate in the Kerry Senior Hurling Championship for the first time.
The Crokes famously won the Intermediate in 2020 and after exercising their right to graduate to the top level, they now face into the daunting task of negotiating the rough and tumble of the top tier.
The Killarney club will take on four-time champions Abbeydorney in their first Group 1 pool game, with throw-in at Austin Stack Park at 1.30pm. O’Dorney are sure to provide a stern test; they reached the last four of last year’s competition before exiting at the hands of eventual winners Kilmoyley.
Two teams from each of the three groups of three will progress to the knockout phase.
Crokes will be hoping that the likes of Kerry senior Michael Lenihan and his brother Jack can lead the way on Sunday, while Kerry U20 footballer and accomplished soccer player Tom Doyle is also considered to be a real talent.
Elsewhere in the Kerry SHC, champions Kilmoyley will get the defence of their title up and running against Ballyheigue tonight at 7.30pm, and last year’s beaten finalists Causeway will do battle with St Brendan’s on Saturday at 7pm.
Neighbours Spa and Crokes vying for Division 1 final
Killarney rivals Spa and Dr Crokes will face off in Round 5 of the Kerry Senior Football League on Saturday with the winners advancing to the Division 1 league final. The match will take place in Lewis Road at 5pm.
Crokes currently lead the way in Division 1A with seven points from four matches, with Spa one point behind having won two, drawn one and lost one of their four fixtures to date. The new competition structure, which was devised to reduce the amount of games and travel required for all teams involved, sees the top team from each pool (1A and 1B) meet in the decider.
In the other pot, Kerin’s O’Rahilly’s are favourites to finish first as they currently sit on top of the pile with seven points. The Killarney Legion are still in contention – they find themselves just one point behind in second – but Rahilly’s will fancy themselves to win their final group phase match against bottom-of-the-table Beaufort. Legion travel back west to play An Ghaeltacht in Gallarus.
Beaufort have already been relegated to Division 2 for 2022 on the back of four consecutive defeats and they will be joined in D2 by the bottom-placed team in Division 1A. Kilcummin currently occupy that position but they can claw their way out of danger with a final day victory over Austin Stacks.
The second-from-bottom team in each pool will also meet in a playoff to decide the third and final team to be relegated to Division 2. These places will go down to the wire with John Mitchels and Stacks in the firing line in 1A and Rathmore, Kenmare Shamrocks and An Ghaeltacht all potential candidates in 1B.
In the second division, Castleisland Desmonds can secure their promotion back to the top table by defeating Na Gaeil in their final fixture, thereby securing top spot in Division 2A. It’s all to play for in 2B as Templenoe, Gneeveguilla and Ballymacelligott are joint top on six points apiece.
The runners-up in both pools will also play each other to decide the third team to be promoted with Glenbeigh-Glencar and St Mary’s in contention in 2A. They will duke it out for that final spot when they meet in Glenbeigh on Saturday; in fact, the winners will secure automatic promotion if Desmonds lose to Na Gaeil in Tralee.
The Dr Crokes B team are currently facing the chop as they sit bottom of 2A on zero points, but they can avoid automatic relegation by beating the team directly above them (Ballydonoghue) away from home on Sunday. Listry can do likewise in 2B if they can get the better of Dromid Pearses in Listry. If Crokes and Listry do the needful, they will meet in a relegation playoff to see who will retain their Division 2 status.
Churchill and Listowel lead the way in Division 3A with Laune Rangers, Milltown/Castlemaine and Brosna in the running in 3B. Glenflesk are safe but the same cannot be said of Currow, who will need to defeat St Senan’s to have any hope of avoiding the drop.
Firies are in pole position in Division 4A with Renard and then Fossa gunning for top spot in 4B. Stacks B and Cordal are in pole position in Divisions 5A and 5B, and it’s all to play for in Division 6 as the B teams of Dingle, Firies, Fossa, Kenmare, Glenflesk and Rathmore, as well as the Dr Crokes C team and Tuosist, are all still in the mix for promotion.
Full fixture list and tables can be found on the Kerry GAA website and across the Kerry GAA social media channels.
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