Mayo will be ready to go if club action gets green light

Social distancing could see limited numbers being allowed to attend club games. Photo: Sportsfile

Social distancing could see limited numbers being allowed to attend club games. Photo: Sportsfile

GAA president John Horan's interview on The Sunday Game last weekend was watched with eagle eyes by the GAA community across the country, as all waited to hear how the year might pan out.

One of those watching closely was Mayo GAA vice chairperson and chair of the counties Competitions Control Committee (CCC ), Con Moynihan. The committee he chairs is responsible for the running of all adult competitions in the county.

We caught up with Moynihan this week to see how plans were progressing and what could potentially be in store for club footballers if they can get back to playing again - something he said he hopes will happen and adding that they will be ready to go at short notice when the time comes.

He told the Mayo Advertiser: "The other evening after John Horan's speech, I revised the calender for a third time or fourth time. We are ready to go back within a fortnight of being given the all clear by Croke Park, the Government and the HSE; we are just following the guidelines.

"We had it ready for the year and I suppose again a June start but realistically now we are looking at an August or October start, if we get the go ahead; and that is a very big if, because we don't know what will happen."

Keeping club championship structure as it is

Of all the competitions, the club championships from senior right down to the various junior grades are the big ones and Moynihan believes that the existing format of 16 teams divided into groups of four, with three group games followed by quarter finals, semi finals and the finals, can be maintained; and that it would not be fair to have players just get one shot at a championship this year.

"The one thing we have probably decided as a group ism if we want a knock-out championship it will take us four dates, but if we leave it the way it is, it just takes us six dates; so the general consensus is that we won't change and it will be six dates.

"I couldn't justify having a player having six months off, back for two weeks or a month and playing a league game and then a championship game and then the championship is done for them and they're out.

"In other counties where there are 20 or 22 teams in a championship, they will be going straight knock-out and some already do that; like I think in Tyrone they are used to it, but I couldn't justify it - even putting in a back door - all you are doing is a saving one date really."

As for league action, the current situation in Mayo is that it is broken into 12 divisions with 11 games for each club, but that is something that could be changed and shortened, Houlihan said.

"One of the ideas for that is to just cut it in half and have two groups of six rather than 12 team divisions, have five games, the top two play off in the final and the bottom two in each for relegation. Because you also have inter-county potentially and then us having to look at stared games too.

"The county board executive are working away all the time in the background to ensure that when things are ready to go they will happen as quickly as they can, but with input from clubs across the county."

Being ready to go

Moynihan further told the Mayo Advertiser that: "We have an online meeting as a steering group, with myself, the chairman Liam Moffatt and the county secrecatary Dermot Butler every week and I'd also speak to the divisional secretaries on a regular basis to keep them in the loop and see what they are doing and what we can do - our focus is to keep players playing in 2020.

"When anything is announced, we will meet as the CCC within 24 hours, we will meet the clubs within 48 hours and the county board meeting will be within a few days; and if we have to tweak any rules or regulations in relation to the championship, the county board have the say on that. The only thing is we might have to have the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the championship finish on the day. But I'd hate to see a county final go down to penalities - you could have extra time and a replay there.

"We've played football up to December 12 before, it's not ideal but we'd rather that than not - but it all depends on how things are ditcated at a national level from Croke Park, the Government and the HSE.

"If there is club action - and hopefully there will be - if we got 10 or 11 weeks you could fit it in, players would have to play every week potentially. But we will be working with the clubs, they'll have two weeks notice before any game."

Potentially limiting numbers that can attend club games

While getting games back up and running is what they want to see happen, there could be curbs on the numbers of people allowed attend club games, Houlihan want on to say, telling us: " Another thing we will have to look at is, if we come back, it will have to be with limited attendances; there will be social distancing in the crowd, we don't know how that will look. We are lucky that Sean Moffatt is on the Croke Park Covid-19 task force, so any return to play protocols, we will have him there to guide us and his knowledge of it will be key to how this will be done.

"It is only early yet and we will be waiting for guidance from Croke Park and we might have to look at putting limits on attendance on club games too - you'd have to look at social distancing in the crowd if that is needed, but we just have to wait on guidance for what we can and can not do

"Club games behind closed doors is probably not an option - because these are people that are the foundation and the bedrock of the association; how are you going to tell the guy who has been involved in their club for 30 or 50 years they can't watch their club play and pop up the road from their house?

"Also, who is going to police it? We might have to look at the issue of making games all ticket - do we have the capacity to do that and how exactly do you do that? For example, say Ballagaderreen are playing Belmullet in the championship at home - do you issue 300 tickets - give 200 to the home team and 100 to the away team - and say if a fella turns up with cash but you don't let them in because of health reasons - all these issues have to be looked at."

Keeping an eye on the underage retention

While adult football takes most of the headlines - having children playing football at underage level is something that Moynihan is also keen to see get back up and running too, if possible, because he doesn't want to see any players lost to the game going forward.

"We will try and give kids as many games as we can. We have u14 kids who are devastated they can't take part in the Feile competition this year, personally I'd like to see that raised to u15 for next year so they can play in that great competition in 2021.

"I think we have the opportunity now to increase the age grades to u15 for Feile - u17 make that Ted Webb, maybe bring the minor back to u19 in-line with schools and restore the u21 grade."

Keeping an eye on the retention rate of players through the underage grades is something Mayo GAA have been working on over the past number of years and continue to do so, Moynihan also explained.

"We are doing a project now that will hopefully be ready for June, previously we did a survey from a few years back on the number of kids playing football from the ages of under eight through u10 and 12 and then we expanded it through every year to look at the number of kids playing at every age through the county; and the first preliminary we found was 80 per cent of 12 year olds were still playing football at minor six years later.

"You can put a lot of that down to the success of the likes of James Horan and Stephen Rochford with the senior team and the underage teams, where they have seen two underage All Ireland titles won at minor and u21 level, as well as schools having success and clubs; and that keeps players wanting to play and saying they want to be part of all this.

"A guy who was born in 2000 has seen an All Ireland minor title won in 2013 and a u21 in 2016 and seen Mayo in senior finals in 2012, 2013, 2016 and 2017 and loads of other long exciting runs in the championship.

"They've also seen clubs and schools in All Ireland finals from all over the county and everywhere they look; since they have been growing up from the age of 12 they have been used to seeing Mayo teams, clubs and schools in Croke Park and have been incentivised to play football. I would say the 80 per cent is a really high retention rate - because of Covid-19 we are using this as an opportunity to look at it again."

If and when the games come back Mayo will be ready to go.

 

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