John Horan: 'No return to GAA action until contact sport is safe'
By John Harrington
GAA President, John Horan, has refuted reports published over the weekend that there are plans under consideration to allow inter-county teams to resume training at some stage this summer.
Speaking on RTE Radio 1’s 'Today with Sean O’Rourke' show this morning, Horan was adamant no such plans have ever been discussed.
“I'm quite shocked by this story,” said Horan. “It's an nothing story and, to be honest, somewhat irresponsible.
“It's caused a nervousness among our membership throughout the country (who are wondering) are we as an organisation putting the interests of the inter-county player ahead of the club player.
“We're regularly in contact with Government departments and at no stage have we discussed a return to training of inter-county players with any Government department. I'm aghast as to where this story has come from.”
Horan took the opportunity this morning to re-iterate once again that there will be no return to GAA training or playing until the health authorities have said that it is safe to resume contact sport.
“We're going to act totally responsibly,” said Horan. “The one thing about the playing of games is they're a contact sport and while social distancing of two metres is a high priority at the moment, I can't see contact sport coming on board in the short-term.
“The other feature in this is we're an amateur sport. I know there's a lot of speculation that professional sports like rugby and soccer may come back here in Ireland or overseas, but that's probably in the sense that they cocoon their players.
“But our amateur athletes go back to their families and work-place and we can't put any of those people or the people they come into contact with at risk just for the sake of playing games.
“People talk about gatherings of crowd and all of this. But the key thing is when will the health authorities declare that contact sport is safe? Until then, we really cannot make a decision about returning to play.
“That's the key question in it all. When will contact sport be safe?
“The movement of the actual control of the virus is the key issue to it all. Games are games, but, as I've said all along, we're not going to put anybody at risk.
“We won't be making any rushed decision on this. We've always taken our guidance from the health authorities and we'll continue to do that. And until they declare that contact sport is safe, then we won't be playing games.”
If the GAA is given the green-light this year to resume playing matches, Horan says the priority will be to get the club season underway before the inter-county season is considered.
“If and when we do return the club scene will be our priority because 98 per cent of our activity happens at club level and club level includes all our inter-county players,” said Horan.
“So as we're looking at it at the moment, our return initially will be back to club activity before we actually engage in the inter-county playing.
“It's just the greater activity and greater benefit to community would be to have club activity taking place first and that's where our focus is at the moment, that if we do we do return that we will bring it back at (club level).
"As I said, 98 per cent of all GAA activity happens with the clubs. Look, the inter-county game is very important to us but we've got to try to strike a correct balance in this.
“Obviously if we do get back to 2020 it will be shortened seasons for both club and county activity.”
If it ultimately proves impossible to complete the 2020 club and inter-county championships in this calendar year, Horan admitted the GAA is open to the possibility of completing the 2020 season as early as possible in 2021.
“Yes, we're open to that,” he said. “If it's a possibility, we would be open to that. We would just adjust the 2021 season. I think there's a hunger and appetite out there among both players and spectators to see games being played.
“I think people would accept that if we were to make such a decision that they would see it's for the benefit of everyone involved.”
Cork hurling team manager, Kieran Kingston, said earlier this month that it’s unfair to ask players to train in isolation without a target date for a return to collective training and playing.
Horan says that club and inter-county players and managers will be given a time-line of when a return to action is likely as soon as that is possible, but, until then, he has urged patience.
“I think in the short-term I would be saying to them to keep in touch with their players and keep active,” said Horan.
“There will be a time-line of return. It's not going to be somebody hitting a switch and saying there's going to be matches on next week.
“So there will be a clear time-line in which people will get the opportunity to go back and get a training programme in place before they start playing games. The length of that training programme may be shortened in comparison to normal training programmes.
“But, look, everyone is going to be singing or working off the same hymn-sheet. So, in that context, we'll give clear direction when we see them coming back and when we see the games are taking place.
“We're not going to put players back out at a full intense level without getting some training under their belt.
“People just have to be patient and stay with it. We've made a lot of ground here in the country and a lot of ground as an organisation and we can't let it slip now at this stage.
“I think the key to it all is patience. Certainly our organisation and its members have done a great job supporting their communities.
“I would hate to think any rash or rushed decision now would undo an awful lot of the good that has been done already.”