Just months after emerging from the county's second lockdown, Offaly minor hurling manager Leo O'Connor says it’s frustrating to have the inter-county underage season paused yet again.
Following the initial Level 5 restrictions in March and another lockdown for the county in August, the county's minor hurling manager believes that further clarity on the latest pause will be welcome as soon as possible.
The GAA this afternoon confirmed that the 2020 inter-county minor and U20 championships would halt indefinitely from midnight as six weeks of Level 5 restrictions begin.
The Government’s plan for this level stated that "professional, elite sports and inter-county Gaelic games, horse-racing and greyhound racing" were permitted to continue behind closed doors".
But NPHET’s recommendation was that only "senior inter-county" competitions should take place in GAA competition, which raised immediate concerns over the completion of the underage championships. Croke Park’s statement was later issued confirming the pause in play.
This means that Saturday’s U20 Eirgrid All-Ireland football decider between Dublin and Galway will not take place as scheduled. The Leinster Council, however, confirmed that their U20 hurling championship fixtures will throw-in this evening as planned - just hours before the halting of underage action commences.
Former Limerick senior hurler and current Faithful minor manager O’Connor says while they feared the competition might be halted, the news still comes as a big blow.
O'Connor, the former Limerick star of the 90s has in the past worked as the Treaty County’s minor and U-21 hurling manager, and led them to the 2011 Munster U-21 hurling title with Declan Hannon, Shane Dowling, Kevin Downes and Graeme Mulcahy all aboard. He then guided a Limerick minor team to a Munster final in 2015, with Kyle Hayes, Seamus Flanagan and Peter Casey all involved.
Following defeat to Kildare in last year’s Leinster MHC, O’Connor was appointed Offaly manager for 2020 and they bounced back this season with a fine win over a fancied Laois outfit least week.
They were due to face off against Kildare again next time out before news of today's pause was announced.
"It’s been very, very frustrating," O’Connor says, speaking of the Government's further clarification of Level 5 restrictions.
"The lack of clarity on the situation has been immense. We did every protocol by the book. These young fellas are in school, they’re doing everything right during the day and when they’re coming in with us, they were temperature-checked every night they came into training.
"We had a marquee with the sides lifted up when we needed to chat to them, so we were chatting to them in open air. Everything has been done to perfection, as best we can. It’s just very, very frustrating at this stage when you hear the word 'paused’ and, due to the lack of clarity that has come out of this, what does the word ‘paused’ mean even at this stage?
"Are they going to revisit it in January? February? These young fellas, they’re under 18 years of age then when that’s happening so starting a competition, putting on pause, very frustrating for everyone and the parents in particular. They’ve put in as much effort as the kids have and it’s just very, very frustrating at this stage when the thing has been paused."
Until this morning’s developments, the GAA had planned to complete both underage championships and fixtures had been released with that in mind.
Croke Park held an executive meeting to seek further clarification and it’s expected they will soon provide detail on when the competitions could potentially resume.
It’s possible that they could even be revisited early next year, and O’Connor says that, despite the usual heavy weather conditions, this would be welcome.
"The elite fields would be fine to host games and the pitches in most stadiums would be fine, I think," he said.
"It would be great to get back at it. We have put a considerable amount of work into our strength and conditioning and our hurling and fair enough if it had to be closed down.
"But the young fellas and their parents have done all they can to get us this far."
"When we played Laois I said to Derek McGrath (former Waterford manager and current Laois minor coach) that whichever team won might not see a second round – the most frustrating part is that we got up and got going after lockdown.
"We were allowed play club championships and Offaly had a three-week lockdown so it has been all stop start.
"We got going again on 21 September, going to minor matches all over the county, talking to our players, seeing how they were and following all protocols.
"As I say we did everything right. I hope we know more soon."