Gerard O'Kane

Gerard O’Kane: GAA must be proactive on coronavirus

SOME people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.” Bill Shankly, the legendary soccer manager famously said this during an interview on a Granada Television chat show in May 1981.

While this has no doubt been repeated many times across various football platforms, you have to imagine that while it was said in jest then, during these uncertain times when people’s public health is a of top priority we will wait and see how this current situation of the Coronavirus all plays out.

At risk of adding to much of the hyperbole and hysteria we see on social media, I have to say there are major political and societal decisions to be made at the highest level of government in the next few days.


Stemming from these decisions will be a raft of decisions made at the next level by organisations such as educational authorities, religious authorities and as far as the top brass of the GAA.

Given that Croke Park is a massive organisation there will have been countless meetings over the last few weeks whereby a business continuity team has been meeting with plans in place should big decisions have to be made.

While not professing to have any in-depth knowledge to the scientific elements of the Coronavirus, it’s quite clear it has become very serious and over the few weeks this will no doubt get worse. What has this got to do with the GAA some might ask?

Well first and foremost, I would take a stab at saying the GAA is the biggest single organisation on this island with the biggest membership therefore the implications for the GAA at all levels will be far-reaching.

While this might sound contradictory as I would be one of the first to show how the GAA is so important in the fabric of Ireland, often knitting communities together and giving people a sense of belonging, in reality if the GAA calendar was to be disrupted or shelved in the grand scheme of things this would not be that big of a deal.

While living in the here and now, if a match is to be cancelled at the weekend or a competition to be scrapped it would be disappointing for those looking forward to it. In reality the postponement or even cancellation of a GAA event is a minute burden compared to what the country might face on a wider health and economic scale.

The GAA are most likely playing a wait and see game just to see how the overall situation develops and taking their lead from the government and the HSE.

With all St Patrick’s Day parades having been cancelled within the last 36 hours and the Irish rugby team having to scrap their games against Italy and France, I can imagine it is a case of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ the GAA follows suit with their games.

An educated guess for me would be that they are hoping to get the league tables confirmed over the next two weekends and then after that games such as the league finals might even be inconsequential.

In Belfast there has already been a temporarily shut down for a GAA club when a club member tested positive despite being on their premises for just a few hours.

Cases like this will become common practice over the next week or so. It’s a case of preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. I just hope the GAA will become leaders in this area and be more proactive than reactive. While across the water the Cheltenham festival is going on as normal, I cannot help but think this is based around money and not the actual sporting event itself and given the influx of up to 250,000 from all parts of Ireland, the UK and France the fallout from this may be massive.

In Ireland we are in the exact same position Italy were in three weeks ago and if we fast-forward now they are on a complete lock down of the country, no free travel unless pre-authorised and the virus has spread to the point where it is uncontrollable with deaths into the hundreds.

In essence, they are shutting the stable after the horse has bolted and it should be a lesson for everywhere else. I just hope in three weeks’ time we are not looking back and saying that we should have taken greater measures while we had the chance.

In 2001, the GAA season was shut down for five full weeks at club and county level due to foot and mouth disease.

As border counties like Armagh and Louth were worst hit, they did not get to finish their league campaign. My abiding memory from that time was heading to Clones with Derry minors for a league game and having to get off the bus, walk around the bus in a line and dip our feet on mats, which were soaked with disinfectant. After a few weeks disruption everything went back to normal and there was not a word about it.

Looking forward, while I expect disruption on a much larger scale for a longer period of time we have to take it for what it is. While I appreciate that some people’s livelihoods depend on the GAA, there is literally some people’s lives depending on what we do in the next few weeks.

I’m not forecasting Armageddon over the next few months but I don’t think people should be flippant about it either in terms of their own health or the health of others. This is one area where selfishness on your part might have minor consequences for yourself but can have drastic consequences for many others.

There needs to be a sensible approach which errs on the side of caution. When the record books in 10 years show no league winners for the year 2020 we can hopefully say the GAA were taking all safety measures possible and setting the standards for others to follow in their decisions as they have now become maybe more influential than the Catholic Church in Ireland over the last 20 years.

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