National Leagues: GAA 'hopes' to start in March with February return 'not realistic'

Collective inter-county training has not yet resumed due to a surge in Covid-19 cases
Collective inter-county training has not yet resumed due to a surge in Covid-19 cases

The GAA has said it "hopes" to start the National Leagues in March after conceding that a February return is "not realistic".

Counties have yet to resume training due to a surge in Covid-19 cases with Level 5 restrictions in place in the Republic of Ireland until 31 January.

The GAA's Covid Advisory Group will meet next week to decide on a start date for the league campaigns.

The Irish Government is due to meet on Monday to discuss current restrictions.

The 2021 season will feature a regionalised league structure designed to restrict travel amid the pandemic with Division One North comprised of Donegal, Tyrone, Monaghan and Armagh.

"Because our players weren't able to return to training on 15 January, they won't have the necessary training done to be able to return to the start of the league campaign at the end of February," said GAA communications director Alan Milton.

"While no call has been made on this yet and our Covid committee is scheduled to meet on this early next week after the government give us more detail, I think it's fair to assume that at this stage the commencement of the Allianz Leagues in late February is not realistic.

Tyrone and Donegal will compete in Division One North as part of the regionalised league structure
Tyrone and Donegal will compete in Division One North as part of the regionalised league structure

Milton added: "It poses challenges for us and I'd imagine it's going to move into some stage in March.

"While we're in Level 5 in the 26 counties, we could actually be competing like our rugby counterparts now, but the GAA has taken the decision that it's not wise for amateur players who mix in the community in a different way and all have to go to their workplaces.

"Everything will be dependent on when it is deemed safe to go back. I wouldn't even commit myself to saying March, but that would definitely be the hope."

All-Ireland series won't be moved to the end of the year

While Milton admitted that the GAA is operating against a "fluid" backdrop of health restrictions, he ruled out the possibility of the All-Ireland championships taking place at the end of the year.

Due to the pandemic, the 2020 provincial football and hurling championships began at the end of the October with the All-Ireland series in both codes culminating in December.

However, in December the GAA announced that a revamped 2021 fixture calendar would conclude with the club season, which is due to run from 25 July to 24 October.

"It [a repeat of the 2020 calendar] can be completely ruled out," said Milton.

Dublin and Mayo met in the rescheduled 2020 All-Ireland football final on 19 December
Dublin and Mayo met in the rescheduled 2020 All-Ireland football final on 19 December

"From the get-go, we've taken the situation that we would try to accommodate 100% of our players and their club players.

"You could organise the season on that basis and it would give us a fighting chance of a bigger number of spectators but to do that would mean you would be taking a gamble that the rest of the island would go back to Level 2 or 3, somewhere in between where our club players could go back and play.

"But what would happen if we don't return to Level 2 or 3? The club player would be marooned so the GAA has taken the stance that the club player, which is every player in the GAA, will have the opportunity to play for their clubs at some stage - and hopefully sooner rather than later.

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