Dr Sean Moffatt, the Chair of the Gaelic Medical Association and team doctor for the Mayo senior panel, has said that it is difficult to foresee an inter-county championship being played in 2020 at this moment in time, given the absence of a Covid-19 vaccine and the need to maintain social distancing.
Dr Moffatt has been appointed to the GAA’s Covid-19 advisory group, a committee of medical professionals and GAA administrators established by Croke Park this week to advise the GAA on possible return to play protocols.
Dr Moffatt, who runs his general practice in Ballina, said that the job of the advisory group as he sees it will be to lay out a roadmap of what checkpoints would need to be met before football and hurling teams can realistically resume training and games.
“The role of the group is to give the GAA guidance on what measures, in terms of public health, would need to be in place for the GAA to potentially sanction a return to training, and then further down the line, what measures need to be in place for a return to play,” said Dr Moffatt.
“It’s also there to give guidance for opening up the venues, spectator safety and general advice for clubs and counties around the use of GAA facilities in the coming months. As I see it, the GAA would always have had a strong track record on player welfare and this is an extension of that. It’s an acknowledgement by the GAA that they do need an advisory committee with broad experience from medics and administrators to assist them in deciding on any potential to play later this year.”
Dr Moffatt laid out some of the specific factors he believes will be crucial in determining how and when the GAA can safely return to play. He said that the impact of the gradual easing of the restrictions on movement over the coming weeks will be key.
“I think it’s very challenging. In my role as a GP, we’re still diagnosing cases of Covid, we’re still sending patients for testing. On the national news daily we’re still hearing case numbers and, unfortunately, fatalities and case clusters.
“Ultimately we would need to see a considerable drop in case numbers and infection spread. They would be paramount. Something else we would need to keep a very close eye on is how the measures that are being introduced by the government to unwind the lockdown are progressing, and whether this leads to any further spikes in cases numbers or infectivity.
At the core of the task the advisory group has been given is how to balance social distancing, which we are told will remain with us in some form until a vaccine can be found, with the physical contact that is intrinsic to Gaelic football, hurling and camogie.
“Currently it’s very difficult to reconcile social distancing and contact sport,” offered Dr Moffatt. “But we have time on our hands to consider it. I think the GAA have been cautious; they’re keen to review what’s happening with the public health situation and to learn from other sports, and to take advice.
Asked whether, from a personal perspective, he anticipated an inter-county championship being played in 2020, Dr Moffatt said that as a GP on the ground, he found it ‘difficult to foresee.’
“It’s an ever-evolving situation and we have time on our hands. Pushing it back to the autumn does give us time to see how the public health situation develops,” he said.
“But in the absence of a vaccine, close-contact sports would seem very challenging. I think player health and safety is the most important consideration.
“I think the views of our players will be very important in any decision making. Their health and safety will be paramount and their opinions and views will be taken into account.”
Through his role as team doctor with the Mayo senior squad, Dr Moffatt has identified what he termed a ‘cautious’ response among the Mayo players to the prospect of a hurried return to play.
“We have a varied age group within the Mayo squad, and I haven’t had as much contact as usual with the players in the last couple of weeks. But I would say overall it’s a cautious response.
“Our players are very responsible. They’re ambassadors for themselves and for Mayo and they’ve been very good at adhering to all the public health advice to date.
“All of us would like to see some sport later in the year, but it has to be safe. Gaelic football and hurling are ultimately pastimes, and we have to ensure the safety of our players,” he concluded.