Tom Ryan hopeful of GAA return-to-play boost as Irish government prepare ‘Living with Covid’ update

GAA director general Tom Ryan says that he is “hopeful” the Irish government’s upcoming ‘Living with Covid’ plan will allow for a swift return to Gaelic games action.

At present, all GAA action has ground to a halt, with the government’s current coronavirus restrictions not viewing Gaelic games as ‘elite sport’.

Having enjoyed such status under the previous lockdowns in 2020, the GAA top brass are eager for the government to allow a return to play.

“Same as everybody else, I would be hopeful that it (the ‘Living with Covid’ plan) has positive connotations GAA-wise but also for the wider country as well,” Ryan explained.

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“We’re here to play. That’s the reason we’re here. So we want to be on pitches and we want to be playing.

“We don’t determine public policy. We’ll implement it. As things stand at the moment, we can’t play. I can understand that, when you consider the sheer scale and the duration of the Allianz League, that’s a lot of people, that’s a lot of travel.

“We had plans to be back, maybe we wouldn’t be back playing at this stage, but we certainly had plans to be advancing towards that. We can’t do it at the moment, it’s disappointing at the moment because that’s our raison d’etre.

“We will be back. A bit like last year, when we get a chance to do it, we will do it well, we’ll do it properly, we’ll do it safely. I can’t honestly tell you when that’s going to be. I hope it’s not too long.”

Could the split-season be flipped?

With the season delayed, there is the potential for change to the 2021 GAA calendar. And the possibility of a ‘club-first’ season has been raised.

“The thing about the club side of things, that would call for a far more accommodating public health scenario really, because you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people at that stage,” Ryan outlined.

“Now I do understand, we’ve a huge responsibility to those people too. The reason we were going with county first, to be honest about it, is because we really did anticipate that that was the element that was going to be the most practical to implement because it was a smaller number of people.

“And I still think that’s probably the case. I don’t foresee that changing in the next couple of weeks. But there probably will come a time when we have to consider all the options ahead of us, and make a call on things. But at the moment, the plans that we announced at Christmastime (county first) are still the ones that we’d like to implement if we can.”

2020: A watershed year?

With change coming down the tracks in the coming years, as far as a settled calendar is concerned, Ryan feels that there can be positives taken from the disrupted 2020 season.

“In the spirit of the times everybody did their best to make it work with the result that I think that we all enjoyed the fresh approach. Most importantly I think – I hope – that players did,” he said.

“We will need to set out clearly, and buy into, the transition period between the two phases. If we can do that, address lead-in times, and incorporate a defined and meaningful closed season then I think this structure to a GAA year offers us a clear road ahead.

“One more thing… it’s not a club vs county season, it’s both, with scope for a full club programme throughout the year. If we get this right then 2020 can prove to be a watershed.”

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