Peter Fitzpatrick believes Friday’s news of reduced restrictions on Gaelic games is a major first step on society’s road to recovery. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
Peter Fitzpatrick believes Friday’s news of reduced restrictions on Gaelic games is a major first step on society’s road to recovery.
Club football is set to get back underway from July 31, with pitches officially being allowed to open on June 29 for training clusters of no more than 10 players, ahead of a full return to organised gatherings from July 20.
The Louth GAA chairman says the contingency fixtures’ plan drawn-up by CCC chief Seán McClean and his team, as revealed to the clubs in April, will be rolled out from the end of July, meaning several rounds of league matches preceding an eight-week club championship.
“A month or two ago it was looking very bleak, but I think for society, we’ve made giant steps forward and it’s now just a matter of consolidating,” Fitzpatrick told The Democrat.
“We gave a commitment that we’d start with the leagues and we will go ahead with three or four matches before we start the championship.
“The championship will be played over an eight-week period approximately and we’ve got a commitment from Croke Park that the inter-county season won’t affect the club championship. It’s very important that club football comes first.”
The inter-county season is scheduled to recommence on October 17, with training permitted from September 14, by which stage the GAA expect all domestic championships to have been played to a conclusion.
“The GAA have been very, very cautious and whereas most sporting organisations can start training from June 8, we’re waiting until June 29 before we get started,” the Independent TD added.
“I think their handling of the process has been very impressive and it will be great to see the pitches opened. I’m just delighted.
“We needed the country opened, even for mental health reasons. The number of parents that have been ringing me about their children, I saw last week in the UK kids going back to schools afraid of their lives. I think sport - and the GAA - is going to play a big part in allowing schools to reopen in September. The Cúl Camps will be able to go ahead which will be fantastic. I think this is really good for everyone in society.
“I could see a lot of people becoming depressed and struggling with their mental health, a lot of people didn’t know what to do with their time. People didn’t realise how much sports organisations filled their lives. Even people who have been cocooned are wanting to get out to see football.
“Then, we have been talking about Louth losing about €160,000 through having no championship games. I just think that If we do this right and allow people to know it’s safe to come to games through social distancing measures, I think we could end up having a very good year, especially compared to a couple of weeks ago when there was so much doom and gloom.”
Fitzpatrick doesn’t see crowd restrictions or behind closed doors guidelines being enforced for local games and has committed to “leaving no stone unturned” in his bid to make matches safe for people to attend.
The Clan na Gael clubman was also heard addressing the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, this week about the possibility of reducing the two-metre social distancing restriction by half, in line with World Health Organisation measures.
Regardless, Fitzpatrick believes Friday’s breakthrough provides Louth GAA with a valuable opportunity to look closely at its structures.
“We’ll have a look at the timeframe and we’ll have more of an idea in the next week or two, but we don’t have any problem organising a few games a week, say a Wednesday and a weekend game.
“I think everyone wants to have games of football and we feel as though we owe it to the people of Louth GAA to get as much football played.
“Delegates have voiced concerns at previous meetings about playing matches in the months of January, February and March, and the impact playing at that time of year has on pitches. Now we’ve an opportunity to have a look and see how league matches progress in September, October and November.
“It could mean in the future the Sheelan Cup and Mullen Shield competitions might be fitted in towards the end of next year. This is an opportunity to have a look at everything.
“The good thing about having no promotion and relegation this year is that players who ordinarily mightn’t get an opportunity to get a game, because their clubs are either fighting promotion or relegation, may get a chance. This year I hope there’ll be a lot of young players in clubs getting an opportunity to taste playing for their adult football team.”
It’s unconfirmed if this year’s winter league competitions will be played to a conclusion.