An update is expected from the GAA in relation to a revised Master Fixtures plan for the remainder of 2020 in the coming days following the publication of the Association’s Return to Play roadmap.
The document set out the dates for the resumption of activity at both club and county level, with July 29 now being the date which will see action return to the club fields across the country.
The inter-county season is currently slated for an October 11 return but speculation is growing that the first two weekends will see the completion of the final rounds of the National League rather than the beginning of the championship.
If that is to be the case, it will mean Clare’s attentions will immediately return to thoughts of survival in Division Two, with Colm Collins’ charges having two games left to play. Both of those will be in Cusack Park as Fermanagh and Armagh are both due come to Ennis.
When the lockdown came, Clare had just recorded a priceless away win against Cavan in Breffni Park. It came thanks in part to Joe McGann’s goal, and left the Banner just above the relegation spots, ahead of Kildare by virtue of the head to head rule, heading into the penultimate round.
There has been much debate surrounding the decision to resume with club action first, with the September 14 return date for inter-county training leading to fears of players being forced to choose between panels at the latter stages of the club championships. It has also led to some counties opting not to use the full 11 week window in which to run their championships, with Clare included in the list of those who are considering a September finish in order to maximise the time available for county panels to prepare for their return to the fold.
It had been speculated that this year’s National League may have been scrapped in order to prioritise the championship at the tail end of the year, but Clare manager Colm Collins feels it would be a good decision to see it finished.
“I don’t see why not, I am fine with that. It would be nice to get our two final games played. You would have no idea how much you miss it until it is gone and it is great that we are now talking about playing games. I would not be splitting hairs about what happens because as long as we are playing games then I am happy. It is important for players too because that is what they look forward to so it is important that they are going to be playing games which is something that we were not so sure we were going to get a few months ago” he noted.
Collins, who also manages the Cratloe senior footballers, admits he has no issue with clubs starting back first and feels the situation can be managed if everyone works together to ensure the best outcome for all involved.
“To be honest, I can see pluses and minuses for both. There are so many players involved with clubs and I have no issue with it. The decision is made and that is it. I am fine with it. It is a good thing and it will give a good lift to clubs to have all their players training with them at every session. What is vital is here is that you have full co-operation and that everybody pulls together. If they do, then it will be fine. The players will get plenty football and plenty training with their clubs and hopefully come back to us then in good shape” he stated.
Collins was also one of those who was opposed to the GAA keeping their facilities closed during the lockdown period, with club gates around the country not set to reopen until June 29. With the latest update from the GAA allowing for groups to return to modified training, it has meant that several clubs have been forced to train either in public spaces or local authority facilities rather than their own club grounds. The Kilmihil native feels there are a number of anomalies in the plan which need to be ironed out to provide clarity for players and management alike.
He said: “There are a lot of things that have not been finalised with this plan and when it came out first I felt there were nearly more questions than answers in it. We have to see what is coming first and see what the first games will be and when they will be. We are waiting for clarification on all those things. A lot of it is pie in the sky and there are so many unanswered questions so we have to wait and see what comes through. This is unprecedented territory and whatever has to happen has to happen. There are a couple of areas in the plan that does not make sense all the same. One of them is that if a club team are knocked out of their championship early, does the county player have to sit on his hands until September 14? I think those little contradictions in the plan need to be sorted out but hopefully common sense will prevail in that case. The main thing is that they have got a clear run at the club and there is no one pulling at players so they can have their full attentions on the club”.
There had also been speculation that the provincial championships may have been run as a standalone competition early in 2021, with the 2020 championship being run as an open draw system. It now appears that the provincials will go ahead as planned but it is not yet decided as to what format the backdoor system will take. Clare had been due to play Tipperary in the Munster quarter-final last month in a game which would have seen Banner stalwart Joe Hayes in direct opposition to many of his former teammates, as the Lissycasey man is now part of the Premier backroom team. Collins, who has long since been an advocate of an open draw system, feels it is something that could have been implemented this year.
“They have said they are going to stick with the original draws but it would seem like an ideal opportunity to try that. I think it will eventually come but it is being really slow in being implemented. There are obvious merits to it and it is the ideal opportunity to try it. The structures are going to be important and we have a limited window to play all these so it is vital we don’t dig ourselves into a bigger hole. I would be in favour of knockout or at the very least having only one second chance. I would hate to see a situation where we dig ourselves into a bigger hole by producing structures that require more games than we are able to fit in. There is that overlap between the end of the club and the start of the championship so it is important that we manage that well” he said.