Ard Stiúrthóir hopes 2020 club championships can be concluded
By John Harrington
GAA Ard Stiúrthóir, Tom Ryan, admits it’s a huge source of regret that not all club championship campaigns were concluded in 2020.
Early last October the GAA’s Management Committee endorsed a decision to suspend all GAA club games with immediate effect in the interest of public safety after post-match celebrations and a lack of social distancing at certain events posed a health risk.
It was a decision that weighed heavily on Ryan, who hopes all the club championships that weren’t completed in 2020 will be concluded at the first available opportunity.
“We didn’t fully deliver on all of our objectives,” wrote Ryan in his 2020 Annual Report which was published today.
“We scheduled a return to mass participation at juvenile and club level first, and I like to think that went well. When I look back on the year those few weeks stand out as one of the real positives.
“So, it is a matter of real regret that we didn’t manage to finish the championships in every county. I regret also that this was largely our own fault. Faced with the health risk and reputational damage from a number of high-profile post-match events we had no alternative but to suspend the games in the remaining counties.
“That day, and that decision weighed heavily on me. Our job is to promote games, not to stop them, but there was a greater imperative that we couldn’t shy away from. I sincerely hope those championships can be concluded.
“I estimate we missed out on the playing of 11 senior finals which was a regrettable blight on an otherwise excellent programme of games. I’m thinking too of those competitions that did not proceed at all, or were halted mid-stream through no fault of their own. Second Level Schools, Club All-Irelands and so on. It was a summer of hard choices.”
With the benefit of hindsight, Ryan admits that scale of the challenge posed by Covid-19 to the Association has proven to be much more significant than originally expected.
He is proud though of the way that GAA clubs up and down the country responded to that challenge by showing real leadership within their communities.
“When it first became apparent that a Covid threat was emerging we did not foresee the extent or duration of what was ahead,” said Ryan.
“The initial shutdown of our activities in late March was in the sincere expectation of a difficult few months and no more, and we expected to be able to weather a brief interruption.
“But what followed proved more difficult than we could have imagined. We tried our best to live up to our responsibilities to the Association and to society.
“The pressure on the Association was amplified by what was at stake – peoples’ health and the Association’s future wellbeing – and by the degree of scrutiny that was applied to us at every juncture. We did not always get everything right, and we did not fully deliver on every aspect, but I do think we comported ourselves reasonably well and lived up to our responsibilities.
“Perhaps the most heartening aspect of the GAA response to the crisis was manifest at local level. Whether through national initiatives like Community Call, or local county or club projects, and even individual acts of kindness, we can all be very proud of the work undertaken by clubs to help vulnerable people in their neighbourhoods.
“You will recall too that dozens of GAA grounds all over the country were repurposed in order to house temporary Covid test centres – from clubhouses to county grounds, to Croke Park itself.
“I think that the most impressive aspect of all of this was the fact that this outpouring of goodwill and desire to help was unprompted and spontaneous.
“Indeed one of our early challenges was to try to build a structure around it to protect volunteers regarding insurance, vetting and so on. And the hardest part was just keeping pace with the sheer volume of volunteers and initiative.”
Ryan admits 2021 will also be another difficult year for the Association because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but he is also optimistic that the lessons learned in the past year can be put to good use when strategising for the months ahead.
“It now seems certain that 2021 will also be overshadowed by Covid,” said Ryan. “Indeed, it may, in many respects, prove even more difficult. Last December for example, after lengthy deliberation, we decided upon a modified fixture schedule for 2021.
“Two months later events have again overtaken us and we will have to think anew. Similarly, after a lot of positive momentum before Christmas, the prospect of spectators returning to matches suddenly seems very remote again.
“Consequently, our financial prospects for the year ahead are not good. So we could be forgiven for conceding that 2021 only means more of the same.
“But perhaps it can be better. We are a little better equipped to deal with what is ahead of us. Last year’s travails were thrust upon us suddenly.
“This year we can at least plan for what may be ahead. Last year taught us, as if we didn’t know already, that the GAA can adapt, it can show its true worth and it can overcome. Many of the challenges of prior years…fixture congestion, giving sufficient priority to clubs, the costs of preparing teams, challenges to our core values and so on…they still apply.
“One good outcome from 2020 can be a realisation that these things are less daunting than we might have thought. We were sorely tested this year and we kept going. And I hope that we are a better organisation for all that.
“We are certainly all the stronger for the huge voluntary effort that we saw throughout the GAA this year.
“Sincere thanks are due to everybody who played a part – on the field and off – in keeping the Association and our games to the forefront of Irish life. If we can harness the confidence and conviction and cooperation that was in evidence throughout the GAA last year I know there are better times ahead for us.”