Just days ahead of the 2021 inter-county season, Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers has clarified that non-playing panel members will be allowed attend games.

It is expected that the GAA and its Covid-19 Advisory Group will convene to discuss this development as they prepare to finalise their return to play protocols.

The Allianz Hurling League begins this Saturday with the football equivalent commencing a week later - both competitions are taking place behind closed doors.

Up to today, the official stance from Government had been that just 26 squad members per county (team and named substitutes) were permitted to attend.

This reflected the position initially adopted last winter, with the then-limit of 40 people per team also incorporating 12 backroom officials and two county officials.

But in a tweet this afternoon Minister Chambers said: "Happy to confirm that non-playing members of inter-county panels may attend games when the league season starts. All members of panels make a significant contribution to the performance of their counties. Important this is recognised."

A spokesperson for Minister Chambers also confirmed to RTÉ Sport that inter-county challenge matches can take place from Monday next, 10 May.

This coincides with the resumption of intercounty travel. Only challenge games at inter-county level can take place.

It will be down to the GAA to decide how to finalise the new protocol in relation to non-playing players and backroom staff.

The figure of 40 had drawn much criticism from managers, who wanted permission for full panels (32 players) to attend.

That number was later extended at the end of November when the minister confirmed that non-playing panel members were allowed to attend the remaining games of the All-Ireland football and hurling championships.

Today's news is a welcome development and further clarification is soon expected from the GAA.