Return to play after Lockdown – a look back at last weekend’s league action

After a four-month absence due to the coronavirus pandemic, competitive Gaelic Football returned on pitches across the country last weekend. 

It’s been a welcome return for the players who had been itching to get back into the fray. There were a number of changes players had to contend with since returning to club action with bringing your own sanitiser and your own bottle now part of the new normal.

The role performed by Covid-19 officials has also played a major part in ensuring that activities have returned. The officer’s duties include overseeing E-Learning programmes, health questionnaires, sanitisation, and reconfirmation of health status before each training session

While not sure she would kick a ball in anger again this year, Louth captain Aoife Byrne is delighted to be back playing and believes it will take a few matches to shake off the cobwebs and rustiness.

Aoife Byrne in league action for Louth v Limerick in February this year.

“It’s great to be back playing again. To be honest, I didn’t think we’d be back on the GAA field for the rest of the year. I kind of had it all written off in my head.

“It’s nice to be back meeting your friends a couple of times a week at training and to have our usual football Sunday routine back,” explained Aoife.

“I’m a team sports person. I don’t like training by myself. I have zero motivation for that, so lockdown didn’t suit me that way. I love to be around people training together in a structured environment with well laid out drills etc.

“We had a short few weeks to get some training under our belt. It will take a while to get back match fit. No matter what you do by yourself, match fitness is a completely different thing,” continued Aoife.

Mochta’s first league game was Sunday last against Cooley where the Louth Village side gave a good account of themselves.

“They were a tough team as always but I was happy with our performance. We have a small panel of girls. Once one or two are injured it’s hard and you are going to get injured trying to get back fit after having no football.

“Roll on the rest of the season and let’s hope it’s a good one for everyone,” added Aoife.

Action from Geraldines vs Newtown Blues in the Tom Duffy Trophies Division Three clash last Friday

Ciara Nugent was part of the Newtown Blues team who were very impressive winners over Stabannon on Sunday. The emerging star paid tribute to the unsung heroes who play such a huge part behind the scenes;

“I wasn’t sure if there would be any football played again this year with the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s only when football is taken away from you do you really know how big a part of your life it is. You miss playing games and the competitive nature of it but our club is like a big family and you miss your teammates just as much.

“It’s great to be back training and playing games. There’s a huge buzz around the club and any unnerving feelings about Coronavirus are put at ease by each team’s Covid Officer and the many volunteers making sure that correct procedures are followed for a safe place for all to enjoy football again.

“I hope that we can see the season out without any interruptions to the fixtures and have a good run in both League and Championship. It’s great to be back,” concluded the Blues star.

Eibhlin & Corin Rice

Cooley Kickhams captain Eibhlin Rice feels the return of the GAA can help communities fight back

“It’s definitely brilliant to be back playing, in such difficult times football is a great distraction and with the way we are operating it feels like a safe environment when so many other social things are not safe. We have always been a close group and we know we can trust everyone to be safe and thankfully this is shown in the numbers we have turning up to training and games.

“From chatting to everyone in the first few sessions it was obvious that the absence of sport in people’s lives had a mental impact on people as well as the health and physical wellbeing side of things being affected.

“The absence of dressing rooms in our first competitive games in Division 1 and 3 was a slight distraction but if it helps to keep the fixtures going and contributes to a safer playing environment then we will take it as just another thing to get used to. Personally, I found the limited water breaks tough, especially on Sunday in such heat, but again it is perhaps just the new norm. We are delighted to have the GAA back in our lives in Cooley,” added Eibhlin.

St Kevins/Hunterstown vs Glyde Rangers (Wee County Trophies Div 2) last Sunday

For Paula Lavin in her second season as Geraldines manager it was all about making sure safety procedures were followed and giving players some much needed game time;

“It is great to be back. The main objective was to get the players on the field and ensuring that all Covid-19 GAA guidelines were implemented from day one. I have been impressed with the attitude and commitment from the players during these challenging times and as team manager I will be doing my best to make us competitive for the season ahead.

The Roscommon native paid tribute to how the club have dealt with the crisis

“The club has taken a professional approach to adhere to the guidelines. This involves a dedicated Covid officer, along with other volunteers to spray equipment before and after training/matches, number checks and records taken at the gate for players, coaching staff and supporters. The Geraldines have introduced a new app, Club Zap which ‘Covid-19 return to play form’ must be completed prior to each training session/match.

“Overseeing the changes is time consuming, but with everyone’s shoulder to the wheel, it has made my job easier.

“I would like to thank all players, coaching staff, mentors and volunteers at the club for their patience and support throughout this whole new process for everyone. I wish all clubs throughout the county a safe and competitive return to sport,” concluded the Colaiste Ris teacher.

The new normal team photo (St Pats before their game versus St Fechins)

Teresa Hanratty is a long-time member of Stabannon LGFA and has held positions on the Louth Co. Board and feels this crisis may change the LGFA for ever.

“In a world where Covid 19 didn’t exist, life as a committee member and mentor with the LGFA was pretty busy, procedures, compliance, safety and fun were the name of the game. This world suddenly changed in March 2020 and the sudden stoppage of all LGFA activity put the best laid plans for 2020 to rest for a number of months. Uncertainty loomed over every club in the country and expectations changed as the virus spread across the country.

“On 24th June the LGFA re-opened its gates to members but access through those gates became very different.  A whole new set of procedures, policies and regimes had to be put in place.  Support from the GAA & LGFA was offered in the form of webinars and eLearning Modules which all club delegates were required to complete,” she explained.

In Stabannon, a club meeting was called to agree procedures and policies and how they would be implemented.  Covid Supervisors were appointed to each team and the responsibility of the Covid Supervisor is to ensure that all players comply with the requirements set down by the GAA & LGFA.  This involves ensuring each player has completed the eLearning module, health questionnaires are completed and that health status of players is confirmed before training starts.

“While the online option for completion and updating of the health status of players is easy to access, the system has limitations.  An App version of the questionnaire would be a huge addition.  There is also confusion among parents when registering players as to whether or not to register players with the GAA or the LGFA.  If registered with the GAA, it is difficult to trace the players for the LGFA and this can result in a lot of unnecessary time being spent by the Covid Supervisor confirming the players health status.

“In addition to this, equipment must be sanitised before and after training by the Covid Supervisor.  As dressing rooms are not open, players are given jerseys in advance of matches and arrive at matches togged out.  This creates additional work for team mentors as they now need to create lists of who has each jersey.  Additional procedures are now in place for the hosting of matches in club grounds where the number of spectators must be counted by the home club,” she continued.

“The atmosphere around the training ground and during matches has changed completely and may change forever.  There are less people around the training field as parents are asked to drop players off and go.  This results in less contact with parents and more contact is now required via phone or email which makes it less personal.  Fundamentally, the success of the LGFA has been underpinned by face to face contact with parents of underage parents and the unplanned conversations that end up taking place at training or matches.  I fear that less contact with parents will disrupt the natural ‘buy in’ to a club that can be formed through such conversations.

“The fact that dressing rooms are closed means players arrive togged out and the typical dressing room conversations are no longer the norm.  The atmosphere is like one that would be associated with a challenge match, a little less structured and without a sense of urgency.  There is also disparity among referees in relation to the rules during games, break times, duration of breaks, etc.  The introduction of water breaks between the 15th and 20th minute of games has impacted the natural flow of the game and I fear it will have a more significant impacted as Championship games begin.

“Fundraising has been decimated in clubs across the country and it is difficult to see how the traditional methods of fundraising can return to clubs.  Clubs will now be required to become innovative and creative with online fundraising events,” Teresa continued.

“Covid 19 has placed increased costs on clubs in terms of signage, hand sanitisers, equipment sanitisers and no financial support has been provided to clubs from the GAA/LGFA.

While all of this is new and clubs across the country are adapting to the new rules, the health and safety of all players, mentors, club members and spectators is of paramount importance to all involved in Stabannon Parnells.

“There is no doubt that Covid 19 is here to stay for the foreseeable future and I am confident that all clubs including our own, will adapt and learn as we move forward in 2020 and into 2021. I believe that clubs are currently focussed on getting players playing football, ensuring correct procedures and policies are adhered too and that once this happens and clubs have time to reflect on how to move forward, new ideas and new thinking will emerge in how to manage clubs at all levels.

“We are in a time of uncertainty and change is inevitable, it is how clubs adapt to this change that will be interesting to watch over the coming months.  Needless to say, additional support from the GAA is always welcome and is needed now more than ever at grass roots level,” concluded the Stabannon Parnells LGFA PRO and U14 manager.

Liam O’Neill presided over St Kevins/Hunterstown vs Glyde Rangers

Dreadnots clubman Rory McCullagh was in charge of the Division 1 League fixture between Geraldines and St.Brides and was content with how events panned out.

“Great to be back refereeing again after the long unexpected lay off due to Covid-19. There’s a different atmosphere out there amongst the girls and mentors as they all look relieved, excited and content to be back playing and enjoying the game rather than being nervous about winning or losing.

“I’m sure the players have missed the game as it’s a huge part of their lives and let’s hope the rest of the season goes without any hitches,” explained Rory.

“A lot of credit must go to the volunteers within the clubs that have went to huge extremes to fight the battle against this virus with all the new guidelines in place and from the venues I have been to everyone can feel safe.

“From a refereeing point of view, I’m sure all the referees are looking forward to a busy few months as helping out the Co Board as much as possible to get competitions played safely,” concluded the Clogherhead man.

Report by Dermot Woods | Photos by Warren Matthews