By Denis J. Croke
Former GAA President Liam O’Neill has expressed his concern that there is a real danger in getting back to playing Gaelic games too soon. O’Neill was speaking to RTÉ Radio 1’s Saturday Sport before the latest announcement was made on Saturday afternoon
On Friday the Government announced that Phase 4 of the country’s plan to emerge from lockdown was to be brought forward to Phase 3. The GAA had planned for a return to contact training from 20 July and but the bringing forward of Phase 4 meant that contact training could now begin on 29 June.
GAA pitches will now open tomorrow (Wednesday), five days earlier than anticipated.
On Saturday Sport O’Neil told Damian Lawlor: “We’re in a pandemic. We’re taking a foot off the caution pedal.”
“The narrative from the media sometimes is that somehow we’re in control of it. We’re not. This is happening to us; it’s happening to the GAA, it’s happening to Irish society, to Ireland, to the world. We’re not in control of this pandemic.
“This is a danger that’s out there lurking. It’s like looking out into the dark as a child, when you couldn’t see what was out there. You were naturally conservative and careful. I think at the moment we don’t know where this virus is.
“We have been magnificently led through this problem by our medics and our politicians. I’m just worried that we’re taking a foot off the caution pedal at the moment.”
He said current GAA President John Horan and the director general Tom Ryan were under “huge pressure”.
“I’ve huge sympathy for both John Horan and Tom Ryan and the people who are making the decisions at the moment,” he added. “There’s huge pressure.”
“Business people will tell you that if you make 51% of your decisions and they turn out to be good decisions, and they’re right, you’ll be a success in business. Unfortunately in the GAA, we have that many people who are interested in what we do and who comment on what we do, we have to get 100% of our decisions correct or we are under awful scrutiny.
“That’s just the world they’re living in. They’re trying to do the best for our members, trying to do their best for the wider public, and it’s a pressure situation. Whatever we do has to be guided by safety first, that’s the prime concern.
“Maybe we’re okay at the moment, but I know historically, in all pandemics there’s been a second wave. I just hope we’re ready for it and I hope we don’t do anything now that will make that worse.”
Despite the pressure being exerted by forcers outside the GAA, the organisation has a responsibility to put the health and safety of its members above everything else.
“As far as I’m concerned there’s no contest when it comes to economics and safety, absolutely no contest whatsoever. And there’s no contest when it comes to the GAA losing money at the gate ahead of a person being cautious.
“We really have a huge responsibility. I said from day one, our responsibility, as an organisation and as a country, is to get as many people over the line before this pandemic peters out, and it will peter out at some stage. We have to make sure we don’t lose people.
“If you get a virus into your family by being careless, you only lose a grandparent once. There’s no amount of money that can make up for that. Take an eight-year-old child that has a grandparent who could possibly live for ten years longer in the normal course of life.
“The enrichment of having grandparents is absolutely invaluable, just invaluable to have contact with an older person, to have the love that’s exchanged between grandparents and grandchildren.
“We can’t sustain what’s happening at the moment financially in the country. I know we have to get back, but we have to do it with caution. I think that sport is being pushed into opening up.
“I watched part of a game last night between Southampton and Norwich, it was like watching like FIFA virtual soccer that my son played 20 years ago on a games console.
“It didn’t add up to sport to me. If we’re going to do this around the country and not have people at the games, maybe we should ask ourselves if it’s really necessary.”