After a long hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, competitive GAA action resumed on pitches across the country in club form this weekend.

It's been a welcome return for players who had been itching to get back in the fray.

Tipperary's Michael Quinlivan and Leitrim's Emlyn Mulligan were among those back in club championship action in their counties with Clonmel Commercials and Melvin Gaels respectively this weekend.

The two and former Wexford All-Ireland hurling championship winner Tom Dempsey, who attended a Friday match in his home county, joined Sunday Sport on RTÉ Radio 1 to discuss the first experience of the return to action.

"It was nice to get back out there," said Mulligan.

"Obviously, there was a lot of rustiness and we had to shake off the cobwebs but just to be back out there among your team-mates and your club, it was nice to get back thankfully."

Quinlivan concurred with that assessment, describing his own return as "very enjoyable" and being satisfied with the intensity and pace of the game.

Along with the safety protocols for players, one of the main talking points as club action returns is the limit on the number of people who can attend games due to the current Covid-19 guidelines following a delay to the onset of Phase 4 of restriction easing, with ticketing measures in place to underpin that.

"Picture this now, the pitch we were playing on, it's out in the country and there's a big fence round it. During our warm-up, it was like something from the wild west," said Mulligan.

"There were people coming out from the hills, fields and ditches because they didn't have tickets. It was a very surreal experience to see that.

Emlyn Mulligan

"In fairness, going back to the whole point of the 200 max people allowed at it, there was so much space around that pitch yesterday that they could have fitted another 200 or 300 there easily.

"But it worked well as a player. Nothing changed on the pitch. Your mind is on the game and the whole social distancing goes out the window [on the field] but all in all, it went straightforward enough."

He added that with the 200 person limit, "within our own families, we were only given one ticket each. I've a mother and father who wanted to go, I've a wife who wanted to go [but] they couldn't come to the game. That's disappointing.  

"The children in the community who wanted to come couldn't come so I suppose that's the disappointing fact. But as mentioned, regulations are there and we have to obey it. It's great to be back playing, that's step one.

"Step two is getting the crowds as the weeks progress and at the end of the day, we have to abide by the [regulations].

"Step two is now hopefully getting an increase over the next couple of weeks, maybe with bigger numbers."

Quinlivan is taking the fact that there is even football going ahead this summer with some spectators allowed as a small victory in itself, adding, "We don't want to end up in a situation where in three or four weeks time, we have to try and shut down again and everything stops again."  

As a spectator on Friday, Dempsey found the atmosphere to be surreal but understands the caution in the current circumstances.

"The lack of support made a big difference," he said.

"But we have to go with what the guidelines are giving us here. I must say, Wexford county board are doing great work well in trying to live stream the games and the local radio is transmitting a lot of the games, so I think the GAA are doing as much as they can. 

"And at the end of the day, with the situation that's in it, we have to go by guidelines. It's not ideal but it is ideal to have our young players back on the field.

"So that's the first step and let's look and see how things move on. I would like to see more people there but it didn't seem to mean any less to the players out there the other night."

He added that the "enemy really is at everyone's gate, not just the GAA", in reference to the threat posed by the coronavirus.

"The enemy really is all over the country. I know they talk about house parties and they're speaking about travel and things like that. That's where the real enemy is," Dempsey continued.

"The danger for the GAA is that something like that will spill into the GAA pitch and then spreads, and that puts clubs in serious, serious problems. But I just think at the moment, certainly the GAA are going in the right direction."

Listen to the full discussion here: