‘We need to get this right’
By Frank Craig
Rory Kavanagh admits that the remainder of the GAA season including championship might well fall victim to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Letterkenny man is a Donegal footballing legend but he’s a parent and a primary school teacher first and foremost.
The 2012 All-Ireland winner is usually one of the most obliging and candid individuals out there when it comes to football talk. But Kavanagh’s grave concerns regarding the current coronavirus outbreak are hard to ignore.
“It’s very worrying,” the Scoil Colmcille, Letterkenny teacher said. “We got word last Wednesday or Thursday, in the school, and it was very sudden. We were closing. Everyone had to go home. We’d to issue recommendations for pupils and parents.
“Plans for work, things that would be useful in terms of academic websites that pupils can access and continue on, were put together.
“Really, we only scheduled in two weeks, up until March 29. But the reality now looks like this could go on for months. You just have to look at Italy as a model.
“It’s a really worrying time – worrying for parents, worrying for kids and it’s putting a serious strain on families. This idea of social distancing, and it’s very important, but it is tough on everyone.
“We all have to take this very seriously. In Italy there have been thousands of deaths. This thing could come on us very quickly if we don’t get our reaction to it right.
“If that was to come to our door, a town or village in Donegal, it would be catastrophic. It would simply be devastating. We really need to get this right. And hopefully people have now realised just where we are in terms of the seriousness of the situation.”
The sombre tone of those worries means that any lingering hopes some of us might still harbour regarding the playing of this summer’s championship continue to subside by the day.
A situation that might have been interpreted as some sort of inconvenience by so many of us just a fortnight ago has now been recast as something much more sinister.
Putting all that to one side for a moment, the St Eunan’s man is asked just where an intercounty side would currently be regarding their preparations for summer.
Donegal of course are scheduled to begin their Ulster SFC defence against rivals Tyrone in Ballybofey on May 17.
He explains: “There is very little hard work you can do when the games were coming thick and fast like they were in the National League. You have that free weekend in February and you’d usually get through a tough week of work then.
“The hard work usually only really began for us once the league was finished. But there is no doubt about it, their whole preparation in terms of their training, has been severely impacted.
“What can players and management really do? They’re under instructions that they cannot train collectively or even in small groups.
“The social distancing directive means they simply cannot risk it. What they can get done on their own and in the gym is where they’re at. I’m not privy to it but I’d imagine programmes of some description have been put together.
“But it’s going to be very, very difficult for management teams across the board to work around or through this. At the minute – and with how serious this is finally beginning to hit home – there is a very real scenario now that the All-Ireland championships could be null and void this year.”
If there was some semblance of control gained on the virus in the coming weeks and a safe environment presented itself to return to the playing of games, Kavanagh said it would have to be a streamlined championship that would also need to incorporate the finishing of the National Football League.
“I suppose if there was a window of opportunity where we got this thing under control; maybe we could set into a scenario of getting the league finished up in July. Play a midweek game and the last game on the following Sunday. The reason that would need to be done is that is has implications for Tier 1 and 2 sides.
“Now this is best case scenario in my opinion but the championship might get played off in five or six weeks if we went down the line of a straight knockout or something like that.
“Listen, it’s all very much pie in the sky. We just don’t know. It depends on so many things. We’re in uncharted waters, really worrying times. I don’t think anyone could really argue if the thing was called off.
“A ball hasn’t been kicked in the championship. It’s different cross channel in the Premier League. So many games have been played and it would look very unfair if that didn’t have a conclusion. But that isn’t the same for the GAA championship.”
One thing he doesn’t envisage is the bending or breaking of the current social distancing rules and the prohibiting of collective training.
He said: “It would be reckless, grossly irresponsible, if anyone went down that road, the route of bringing their teams together in secret locations or whatever. Management will be monitoring them and in contact regularly.
“But ultimately, the bigger picture is that the GAA and the sporting world doesn’t really matter at this moment. That’s our reality. Again, we just have to look at the situation in Italy and how bad things have got over there.”
Kavanagh praised the extent to which GAA clubs have gone to in their respective communities amidst the ongoing global situation.
“The GAA community, to be fair, has reacted brilliantly to this. Also making their facilities available to the HSE in terms of testing at Croke Park and Páirc Uí Chaoimh; that’s brilliant. That community drive would really lift you.
“Even on social media, I’m involved with the county Under 15 development squad. And Aaron Kyles is posting small skills videos and challenges for the kids on a daily basis. It’s a little thing but it’s really caught their imaginations.
“That’s all very positive. We can get through this but it’s going to take a really mindful effort across the board to get to that point.”