Donal O'Sullivan doesn't need the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic explained to him.

The Limerick football goalkeeper is a junior doctor in the city.

Over the last year, he has done rotations in the general medicine, paediatric, maternity and now psychiatry branches of University Hospital Limerick.

O'Sullivan has worked multiple 24-hour shifts covering for sick and isolating colleagues, witnessed the stress on the health service since Christmas and seen the lasting effects of Covid on patients.  

"It's a long road to recovery for some people," the 29-year-old tells RTÉ Sport. "It's not a simple virus and that’s a huge element of worry."

"It's been a difficult year around the country but at least we’re in a position where we’re able to help and contribute. I’m very mindful people are in worse situations."

GAA president John Horan explained the association's decision to delay its return to action this week by suggesting "it wouldn't be responsible to go back at the moment, such is the level of the virus within society."

However, the Treaty co-captain fears that allowing the Level 5 inter-county exemption to expire could be short-sighted.

Iain Corbett (L) and Donal O'Sullivan lift the McGrath Cup after beating Cork in January 2020

"It's disappointing but it's understandable," O'Sullivan told RTÉ Sport.

"I can see why the government and GAA have come to the decision when not so long ago, ICU was at capacity, and schools are closed.

"At the same time, the year gone by really highlighted the social importance of the GAA for me. It’s good for your physical and mental health, it equips people with social skills. GAA has really given me the skills to survive the year.

"It’s a very healthy pastime if done right. It has minimal risk with regards to over-running the health service and the capacity of ICU beds. That has to be clear in decision-makers’ heads.

"If it is done right, with strict social distancing, no congregating indoors and good hygiene measures, I think the social benefits outweigh the risks involved. There is minimal risk outdoors.

"I thought it worked very well (last year). There were very few clusters of cases. Like anything, there is a risk involved and you have to weigh that up against the benefit. I think the social benefit of doing it in a safe manner outweighs the small risk."

O'Sullivan moved out of his parents' house last March out of concern he could bring home the virus from work and has avoided close contact with them since.

He observes that they "love the game" and that the positives for sport continuing aren't just for those on the pitch.

"For a lot of men and women, young and old, it is a huge part of their social fabric. It is inter-woven into how a lot of people get by day to day, with something to look forward to at the weekend.

"No matter what decision is made, there will be criticism, especially with the culture that is online.

"You have to take on board the general public's views and wishes. But I feel that if it's done in a safe manner, for young people and old people, no matter what their level of involvement in sport, it will provide a huge framework for the next year of things to look forward to and help them through a difficult period."

"We could be in for restrictions for months yet and we can't grind everything completely to a halt."

The Monaleen man is a thoughtful and articulate character, who started keeping a journal of his frontline experiences last year that he has since expanded into a book.

With the threat of Covid stretching into the future, he is hopeful that we can find a way for sport to continue safely.

"There is sometimes a lack of common sense with regards to these blanket restrictions," he says.

"There is an argument for the New Zealand/Australia model with strict quarantining and tighter contact tracing. They seem to be a lot further down the road.

"We just need to try and find solutions. The hope is the vaccine will ameliorate the issues around Covid in the next year but there are no guarantees with it.

"I’d rather see us come to a resolution where we are able to have some aspects of normal life while also ensuring that the health service isn’t overrun and we get the schools back working and as many businesses open as possible.

"A degree of normality while accepting and minimising the risk involved in Covid.

"I don’t think the playing of GAA will negatively impact on the health service, if it's done right.

"We could be in for restrictions for months yet and we can’t grind everything completely to a halt."