Fermanagh Manager Ryan McMenamin says that last week’s announcement that inter-county GAA was no longer deemed as ‘elite’ came as a shock to him, and is one that he finds strange.

The GAA revealed last Wednesday that there will be no return to on-field games, either training or games, until Easter at the earliest.

This came after Irish government representatives clarified that inter-county Gaelic Games activity is not covered under the current Level 5 exemptions for elite sport.

As such, a return to inter-county training or games is not permitted under the current restrictions.

“It is a strange decision, given the fact that we were elite earlier in the season; we were elite when the numbers were rising; and now we seem to be not elite when the numbers seem to be dropping,” said McMenamin.

“It came as a shock, especially after having been given fixtures out at the start of the year. This seems to have been known since January, and if everybody had been frank about it, you could have eased a lot of pressure on the players because, at the end of the day, the players are training away at the minute.

“We understand that it is a fluid situation and the GAA are in a tough spot, and you have to remember that there is the financial end to things as well.

“But, if HQ had come out and said at the start of the year that we don’t have elite status, and we may have to play the championship in September or October, you would have took it, and you would have understood the situation. But the fact that they produced fixtures and had dates for starting – it has knocked everybody for six,” he added.

McMenamin does believe though that a league and championship will be played.

“I’m still positive that we will have a league and championship, but when it will be played, I don’t know.

“You don’t know what to expect. When you look at it, it has been a case of again kicking the can down the road to wait and see what the Government says.

“You would like to think that maybe we will hear more next week and, hopefully, training can start in April,” he said.

However, even if they do get the nod to return to training in April, McMenamin stresses that teams will need a good period of preparation time before there can be any competitive games.

“Even if they say ‘you can get back out on the pitch in April’, you are going to need four to six weeks to get ready, as it has been close to five months for the players without kicking a ball,” he explained.

With the uncertainty of when the season will eventually begin, McMenamin has given the majority of his players a break from their personal programmes.

“There are a couple of fellas who have to keep motoring on, and there is still stuff that we have asked the rest of the lads to do, but we have taken the conditioning out of it so the lads can relax and clear the heads for the next seven to ten days, and hopefully they come back refreshed and ready to go,” said McMenamin, who also acknowledged that the chopping and changing of dates has not helped the players.

“You have to commend the lads for this last six weeks or so for the work they have put in, because it has been tough.

“ I think it motivated a lot of the lads throughout Christmas that they had the date of January 15 to work towards [to return to collective training] and then that was taken away at the very last second.

“They were working towards the end of January, and we were told that we would then have clarity then, but that again was taken away from them. Then, two weeks later, we were hit with this.

“It has been hard on the players, especially when Croke Park have been giving them dates to focus on, and then pulling the rug from beneath them.

“I have spoke to other county managers and that seems to be the most frustrating thing – that we have been given dates and then at the last minute it has changed,” he said.

McMenamin does say that players and managements are understanding of the situation, and that things can change, but he is hopeful that a definitive start date can be put in place soon for a return.

“I think everyone understands the seriousness of the situation we are in, but you would like a definitive date, although I think the GAA have proved that even with Covid ongoing, we have shown that we can to do it and make it work.

“As footballers and managers, we just love to have dates to work towards.

“It is very hard to do anything without a date, but we totally understand the fluidity of things,” he concluded.