There will be no British representative in this year’s Ladies All Ireland football championship, after the Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA) withdrew the place on offer to the All-Britain winners.
The LGFA management committee made the decision on 16 June due to concerns over travel restrictions and quarantine regulations caused by Covid-19.
London are the reigning British champions and were widely expected to retain the title, having reached the All Ireland junior semi-finals for the last four years.
London ladies manager Paddy Bowles told the Irish World that the players had been left “very, very disappointed”.
“We know there’s a bigger picture than sport, but it feels like there’s a decision being made very quickly,” said Bowles.
“The dates for the resumption of the championship are mid-October, so it does feel like a decision that’s been made early.”
He added: “But we understand where the LGFA are coming from and we do have to look at player welfare.”
Bowles says London “would have fancied our chances” of winning an All Ireland junior title this year.
But he now fears that the lack of a championship campaign could see them slip behind their rivals for 2021.
“We’ve been building; you could see the development of the team. We weren’t going to lose a lot of players this year and we had some new ones on board,” he said.
“My concern is it’s now going to be a very long period of time, if we don’t play any competitive football before next summer. The counties at home will have had a championship and next year’s league campaign.”
London Ladies County Board Chairperson Lucia Butler said the decision was “devastating” and a “tremendous blow for all concerned”.
“I know it’s been a very difficult and challenging year all round, but London ladies GAA will now not get the chance to promote itself, and the players will not have the opportunity to win an All Ireland.”
Under current quarantine requirements, people entering the Republic of Ireland must self-isolate for 14 days. There is no such stipulation for people travelling to Britain from Ireland.
Marie Hickey, President of the Ladies Gaelic Football Association, said the decision was a “very difficult” one to reach. New York have also been excluded.
With inter-county championship games not due to commence until 17 October, Hickey defended the LGFA’s decision not to delay making their decision.
“All along our policy has been to make decisions early,” she said.
“A lot of our members are health care workers and they’re very much in tune with what’s going on at the coalface and wanting to make sure that they don’t come in contact with it [Covid-19].
“Our worst nightmare would be to find that a team member had tested positive and then you’re in a very difficult situation.
“Ultimately we feel that letting people know early is good, rather than having people hanging on wondering.”
President of the Ladies Provincial Council of Britain, Patricia Morrison, is on LGFA’s management committee and says they made the “right decision”.
“The longer you wait, especially for British counties, the greater the expense and pressure you’re putting on counties to arrange travel and accommodation,” she said.
Full details: https://t.co/hdhcwC3QKn
— Ladies Football (@LadiesFootball) June 19, 2020
Morrison added: “It is disappointing but considering the amount of unknowns at this stage, we would have ended up preventing the fixtures being drafted, agreed and issued.”
The revised structures for the Ladies All Ireland competitions were signed off at Thursday (18 June) night’s LGFA Central Council meeting.
“It was very hard to put forward an argument where we could say we ‘yes, Britain will be in a position to travel to Ireland and there won’t be any Covid restrictions’, but we don’t have a roadmap in Britain for a return to [amateur] sport.”
In contrast, the Irish government announced on Friday (19 June) that all sports are free to return from 29 June.
Hickey confirmed that last week’s management decision is final, and will not be reviewed even if the situation was to improve.
“Once a decision is made it’s made – it’s very hard to go back and change things because everybody else plans towards that,” she said.
“We can’t make decisions now based on how things may be in the future. Decisions are based on the information we have at any given time.”
Butler says the London board and the team’s management will now switch their focus towards securing entry into the National League for 2021.
The last time the Exiles took part in the league was in 2008, when they went on to win the All Ireland.
“We have secured the backing from our sponsor, John Reddington JRL Group, for the league and the aim will be to get London playing in the league next year, Covid-19 permitting,” said Butler.
The only “positive” for London’s players, says Bowles, is that they can now “focus totally on a London championship”.
The lack of All Ireland involvement could also allow time to “develop” the “potential” within the county, in preparation for next year’s league, if accepted by the LGFA.
Hickey said the LGFA would be “delighted” to welcome London back into the National League.
“The more teams we have the better it is for everybody. Travel and the finance required for that would be the issue, but we’d be open to all suggestions,” she said.
Hickey confirmed that the LGFA management committee still ‘have to look” at whether their decision will also apply to the British club winners competing in the All Ireland club championship.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the winners of this year’s British championship had been scheduled to open their All Ireland junior campaign at home to New York on 18/19 July. They then faced Carlow (away) and Derry (home).
All Ireland champions in 2008 and 1993, London went out to Fermanagh at the semi-final stage in 2019 and 2017, and Limerick in 2018 and Antrim in 2016.