By Damian Lawlor and Marty Morrissey
Offaly will not be able to field a team for this Saturday's Christy Ring Cup clash with Kildare following a HSE decision that could have major implications for the rest of the inter-county GAA season.
Faithful County officials tonight confirmed their concession of the game, saying they regretted that it would not be possible to fulfil the fixture as the HSE has deemed almost every member of their senior hurling panel as a 'close contact’ after training with a player who tested positive for Covid-19.
As a result, the 27 players involved have been obliged to self-isolate and are unavailable for selection.
The player tested positive on Wednesday, 21 October, and had not taken part in training with squad since 13 October. The other players on the panel are obliged to restrict their movements for 14 days (until 27 October).
In a statement, Offaly GAA said that it had expected panel members would have been deemed ‘casual contacts’ rather than ‘close contacts’ of the player who tested positive for Covid-19, as per regulations governing outdoor training sessions since games resumed in the summer.
"Offaly GAA County Board officers have liaised with GAA officials in Croke Park since this issue arose on Wednesday afternoon," the statement said.
"Our preferred option was for a postponement of the game, but we understand that this course of action is not possible as all GAA Championships must be completed in a short timeframe.
"We hope to participate in the second round of the Christy Ring Cup on the weekend of 7/8 November, when the players who are self-isolating will hopefully be available. They are currently availing of the GAA’s rapid testing facility."
As the players have been deemed 'close' rather than 'casual' contacts, even if they test negative they will still have to restrict their movements until 14 days have passed.
Offaly #GAA Covid officer Colm Cummins tells @MartyM_RTE that the county was surprised that the HSE deemed all players participating in a training session with a positive Covid-19 case as close contacts. pic.twitter.com/YknHQnlDBN— RTÉ GAA (@RTEgaa) October 22, 2020
Offaly officials stressed that they would have been prepared to participate in Saturday’s game with a depleted squad.
"However, it is simply not feasible with over 25 players ruled out," the statement continued.
The board also wished to emphasise that they, team management, players and backroom staff have followed HSE and GAA guidelines in relation to Covid-19 at all times,
"Finally," the statement concluded, "Offaly GAA accept that this is short notice for our opponents ahead of Saturday’s fixture, but wish to assure Kildare that since this matter arose on Wednesday afternoon, we have been working tirelessly to avoid this unfortunate situation whereby the game cannot proceed as fixed."
Speaking earlier to RTÉ Sport, Offaly Covid officer Colm Cummins admitted the HSE's decision took them by surprise.
"If this view is taken in any other case it would have serious implications for all teams," he said.
"We had a positive case within our senior hurling squad this week. Unfortunately that player had trained with the squad earlier last week.
"When the HSE commenced their contact tracing they analysed the activities at the training session, which were all outdoor, and the big surprise to us was that they deemed the players involved in that session as close contacts of that player.
"The premise for all GAA activities to return to play was the fact that we were outdoors and we were all working on the assumption that if there was any interaction with a positive case, the fact that it was outdoors would leave everybody as a casual contact.
"For that reason, we were a bit taken aback by the decision by the HSE but at the same time we have to respect the decision.
"The HSE when they are carrying out their risk assessments look at a wide range of things, including rate of transmission within the community itself, but from Offaly GAA's point of view, we're satisfied that the session itself adhered to all the correct protocols."