The GAA's director of player, club and games administration Feargal McGill says that the integrity of the 2020 All-Ireland championship has not been damaged by Sligo's concession to Galway in the Connacht SFC.
A late-night meeting on Tuesday night signalled the end of the Yeats County's presence in this year's football championship as they withdrew from their scheduled match due to an outbreak of coronavirus within the panel.
This has led to the suggestion from some quarters that the championship has now been undermined but it's an assertion that McGill disagrees with.
"I don’t think there’s any question about the integrity of the Championship," said McGill, who is a member of the GAA's Covid-19 Advisory Group.
"Galway will still have to win a provincial title. They have to win an All-Ireland semi-final and win an All-Ireland final if they’re going to get there.
"You could be smart and say it was always likely that Galway were going to beat Sligo anyway, they would have been hot favourites for that game, but I don’t think it affects the integrity of the Championship. It was well flagged that this was going to be a possibility. We’re not operating in normal times."
The GAA administrator maintains that the large number of players affected in the Sligo camp put the fixture with Galway in serious jeopardy from an early stage.
"The bottom line on this one was that it became apparent, given the numbers involved in the Sligo thing, that they were not going to be able to fulfil the fixture and that was just based on the number of positive cases added to the number of injuries that they already have."
McGill was asked what the number of Sligo players who were fit and available for the game was.
"It’s not for me to talk on that to be fair, that’s a matter for Sligo," he said. "All I can say from our point of view is that there were a number of players that tested positive and there were a number of players who had injuries and my understanding is that that’s what led to them having to take the decision."
"That's all grand assuming that something doesn’t happen in Galway in the meantime or a second wave doesn’t hit Sligo. So where do you stop?"
As the Connacht final is being staged a week earlier than the other three provincial deciders, much debate centred on whether the semi-final clash with Galway could have been pushed back for a week. That would have made players who had been isolating for ten days available.
McGill felt that that was a matter for the Connacht Council to address and, in separate interviews, the provincial council had dismissed the idea of pushing the original fixture back.
"It’s for John Prenty (CEO Connacht Council) to answer that, not me," McGill stated, "but what I would say is that I know from various conversations we’ve all had, that’s all grand assuming that something doesn’t happen in Galway in the meantime or a second wave doesn’t hit Sligo. So where do you stop?"
Galway's free pass now sees them get a bye into a Connacht final meaning it would take just three wins for them to land an All-Ireland title, something that would be far from satisfactory in a normal year.
"It’s not ideal but, what I would say is that a number of things about this year’s Championship aren’t ideal - but we knew they were coming," McGill continued.
"We knew this wasn’t going to be ideal, we knew it was going to be a difficult year and look, it’s a pity that a team has had to pull out but we flagged that well in advance that there was always that possibility and always that likelihood. We hoped it wouldn’t happen but having said that, it’s happened. It’s not ideal but it is what it is."
Referring to the announcement of the championship roadmap in September, when the GAA expressed confidence that there would be no concessions, McGill said that no-one knew at that juncture what the future held.
"We didn’t know we were going to be in a situation where there would be a thousand cases a day," he said.
"I think I also said that I thought it was unlikely that we would be playing at all in Level 5. I didn’t think that we’d be permitted to play in Level 5, it turned out that we were permitted to play so that was a changing factor.
"If I’d known we were going to be playing in Level 5, I would have given a different answer at the time but so be it.
With a number of teams being eliminated every weekend and with numbers of positive Covid cases falling, is there optimism that the remainder of the championship will pass without further games being conceded?
"We just don’t know," said McGill. "All I can say is that there’s less Covid in the community today than there was even three weeks ago when we began the inter-county season so we would hope that’s a positive sign but there are no guarantees with this. We’ve seen that from day one."