Over the last few days, Wexford GAA authorities have received some criticism, particularly on social media relating to the possible dates for the Wexford Club Championships. Fuel was added to this fire when the CPA published an anonymous letter claiming to be from a club player in Co.Wexford.
The letter contained a variety of criticisms, but the main anger appeared to be directed at the schedule of the championships. There seem to be two schools of thought on the issue. Some people, like me, are pleased there will be competitive games of some description in a year which looked like a write off only a few weeks ago. On the other hand there are people who believe that all of the time made available for club matches, should be given to club matches.
It is important to remember that the exact timetable has yet to be announced, while optimists are hoping the championships may be able to start earlier than is currently planned. This is dependent on a combination of government policies and GAA regulations. It is also possible that an additional round (quarter finals), may be added to the structure. Perhaps judgement on these issues would be best reserved until the actual dates are decided. It appears as though some critics have jumped to premature conclusions. Hopefully if they ever have to appear on a jury, they won’t be as quick to condemn the accused before the evidence is presented.
We currently have a plan for re-opening grounds and pitches, a plan to play club championships, a plan to play club leagues and a plan to play inter-county championships. All of these things looked very unlikely two months ago, and inevitably compromises had to be made in order to cater for all of these aspects. On April 15th, there was an announcement of 1,068 new COVID-19 cases, and thirty-eight more deaths, while yesterday, two months on, the same announcement reported just eighteen new cases, and 0 deaths. How quickly things have changed.
While the club v county debate has raged on, the most sensible and responsible decision of removing relegation from the Championships for 2020 has received little attention.
The County Board last week made the decision to remove the relegation element of the 2020 club championships. The original plan was to retain the relegation matches, but after careful consideration and input from concerned parties, the sensible decision was made to remove relegation for this year. Some other counties have kept the relegation element to their championships, but the arguments against relegation are very persuasive:
– An outbreak of COVID-19 may occur within a particular club during the championship, or amongst the close family of a player. This could mean a number of players from a particular club may have to isolate, and not be available for championship matches.
– Players will be training together as normal from July 20th meaning that if one player has come into contact with a known case through their work or daily life, then a whole team or a large number of players may have to isolate for 14 days.
– There is a possibility that a club may be able to start the championship but unable to finish it.
– The unavailability of some players due to they type of frontline work they engage in, and the potential infection risks associated with it.
Many players are in a conundrum as to whether to return to play at all, for a variety of reasons. Clubs will have players living with elderly, unhealthy or frail relations, players living with others with underlying health conditions, players who have underlying health conditions themselves and players who work in environments where they are susceptible to picking up the virus. Coaches and selectors may also find themselves in a similar situation. Often in cases like this one worry is about letting the team down. The removal of relegation should help ease some of this worry and help ensure that players and officials make the best decision for the situation they find themselves in. It also removes the negative consequences or punishment which a club may face in the above situations.
There will of course still be promotion. This provides an incentive to clubs to do well. The knock-on affect of this is there will be thirteen teams in senior in 2021, with twelve in all other grades. In order to reverse this, it may be necessary to relegate two teams from each grade in 2021. However, it is feared that the 2021 championship season may also be shorter than normal and might need to be designed differently than the usual two groups of six again.
It is likely the draw for the 2020 championships will take place before the end of next week. In senior, last years semi-finalists will be seeded and placed in separate groups. In all other grades, the three remaining semi-finalists, plus the relegated team from the grade above will be the seeded teams. One thing is for certain, teams will have to hit the ground running. There will be no margin for error, as just one poor performance could be season ending. Whatever happens, the 2020 championship will certainly be a memorable one. We all look forward now to getting back into the pitch at the end of June and getting a buzz going again within our towns and villages.