Offaly’s Charlie Bracken poised to strike with Kildare’s Cian Boran closing in to challenge during their 2020 Leinster MHC match in Newbridge. Photo: Ger Rogers.

GAA fixture plans in doubt as return to training is put back

Uncertainty continues over when the Offaly minor football and hurling teams will be able to play their 2020 Leinster finals.

The Offaly minor hurlers were due to face Kilkenny in their Leinster final last Saturday, while the minor football decider between Offaly and Meath had been scheduled for last Sunday.

Both finals were postponed due to the reintroduction of Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions, but GAA authorities stated that they intended to rearrange the finals at the first available opportunity.

However, the situation has been complicated further since by the record numbers of Covid-19 cases in recent days, and the GAA’s decision to not permit collective training for at least the remainder of January.

The date of January 15 had been set for inter-county teams to resume training, with the Allianz football and hurling leagues slated to commence at the end of February. However, whether such plans will be realised are now in considerable doubt.

“Given the current exceptional rise in infection rates of Covid-19 and the increased risk of community transmission, the GAA has taken the decision that there will be no collective training permitted for inter-county teams for at least the remainder of the month of January,” said a GAA statement issued this week.

“As previously advised, and under the current Government Regulations in both jurisdictions, neither training nor games are permitted at club level currently.

“Breaches of any of the above provisions will be dealt with under Rule 7.2 (e) ‘Misconduct considered to have discredited the Association’,” the statement added.

In a letter sent to county secretaries earlier this week, GAA Director General Tom Ryan pointed out that as the current Level 5 restrictions in the Republic of Ireland are due to run until January 31, the GAA will review the situation at that point and will provide further advice.

“It is important to note that outdoor gatherings on GAA property are not permitted – the only current exemption to this is for walkways (which may stay open for use by the community with social distancing in place) and for clubs registered for the ‘Ireland Lights Up’ walking initiative,” Mr Ryan stated.

“I fully appreciate the frustrations these additional restrictions may place on our inter-county players and management teams.

“However, the safety of everyone in the game and indeed the broader community has to be our primary focus.

“It has never been more important for our players, coaches and officials to follow both the Government guidelines and our own provisions around training,” his letter continued.

The fact that a number of minor and U-20 games at inter-county level remain unplayed from last year is a major complicating factor as to when 2021 competitions will be able to start.

In the proposed GAA master fixture list released in December, the 2021 minor and U-20 football and hurling championships were scheduled to start in March. The 2020 competitions were due to be completed with the All-Ireland MFC final on January 23/24.

One of the thorny issues to be determined is when will non-elite players, as minor and U-20 players are defined, be allowed to resume competition.

In any case it now appears likely that the GAA’s calendar will be significantly affected.

With an overlap of players between county underage teams from 2020 and 2021, preparations will be difficult for a number of counties including Offaly.

Including the Leinster minor finals (both of which involve Offaly), there are currently 12 inter-county games from 2020 at minor and U-20 level that have yet to be played.

If Offaly win the Leinster MFC final, they are in line to play the Ulster champions in the All-Ireland semi-finals.

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