The Imagined Battleground of Club Versus County

There has become something of an obsession in media commentary around the return of Gaelic Games that there is a battle the like of which has not been seen since 1916 around the return of club games and that of inter county panels.

Fire and brimstone has been threatened against what is being suggested as multiple inter county groups that are alleged to be gathering on multiple secret pitches around the country.

The facts of the matter are that the GAA’s Covid Committee has sanctioned a period in which club has precedence and for inter county groups only to come together from September 14th, giving a one month run before the resumption of the Allianz League in Football as well as the All ireland Championships in Football, Hurling, Ladies Football and Camogie from around the middle of October depending on each code.

There have been calls for sanctions against inter county teams that are gathering before that point and it has been decided that the GAA insurance scheme will not apply to players who are engaged in inter county activity ahead of that date.

Common Sense

So far, so much common sense. The playing of Club Championships is the responsibility of each county. The playing of Provincial Championships is the responsibility of each province. Only when it comes to the All ireland Series does the national element of the GAA take over responsibility.

Such is the Federal way in which the Association is managed.

Each of the counties has been laying out its own schedules to suit its own needs based on the number of dual clubs that are involved and a host of often local criteria.

It is their decision on how quickly or slowly to play them off through the window given to them. Some have been accused of rushing them in order to satisfy the supposed demands of maniacally focused inter county managers.

Second Wave

Some may have looked at the spike in infections taking place around the world and decided that getting the Championship completed sooner rather than later was a sensible move in the face of the potential for a second wave of infection and further lockdowns.

No evidence has yet been put forward of secret training sessions and most nod and wink suggestions of same happening ‘just around the corner’ are greeted with a bemused smile and a shrug of the shoulders.

The Gaelic Players Association, which represents the players at the elite end of the player spectrum issued a statement yesterday reiterating that players consider themselves in the context of club and county as opposed to club or county.

Wexford star Lee Chin was active in a match this week not in the yellow belly colours of his county being managed by Davy Fitzgerald but in a club challenge match for Faythe Harriers in a game organised in Offaly.

Secret Bunker

To the best of our knowledge he was not whisked away by helicopter to a secret bunker underneath Curracloe Beach to resume tactical training for Wexford’s clash with Galway in the semi final of the Leinster Hurling Championship in three months time.

The GPA statement goes on to say that “2020 is a year that requires compromise and collaboration to complete what has been a very difficult year for all. Longer term, our strategy to achieve club and county balance requires structural changes that we have been working diligently on with the GAA via the Fixtures Task Force.”

“As things stand and for complete clarity, the roadmap clearly highlights that there should be no collective inter-county training prior to September 14th. However, it would be highly negligent of us, and utterly wrong, as the body charged with looking after inter-county player welfare, not to seek to have any such training covered by the GAA Injury Benefit Scheme, should these sessions be sanctioned by their respective counties.”

Insurance is there to cover what might go wrong, not what is certain.

The GPA is right to call for players welfare not to be risked in the case of individual county boards not standing up to managers.

Then again, and for the avoidance once more of any doubt, they only have to stand up to them if they are being pressed by them.

Evidence

And the evidence of that remains in the imagination of naysayers rather than the lens of a photograph.

The narrative within the GAA has been about getting teams of adult and primarily children back to play safely.

It has done so with careful steps, a massive burden, willingly accepted, on club volunteers, and with a measure of success from Donegal to Kerry and Antrim to Wexford.

It has been complicated and deserves a little more credit than to jump on the bandwagon fuelled by rage and fury that is the imagined battleground between club and county.

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