It is understood that approximately six players have said that they do not want to play this weekend’s Allianz Football League meeting with Antrim– citing covid concerns.
The fixture is still set to be played in Portglenone, just outside Ballymena; a location that the Waterford team and board were not keen to travel to in the current level 5 lockdown.
A request was made by the County Board to have the location of the fixture changed to a more “covid safe” setting, possibly in the Republic – this request was made to Antrim County Board, but was also denied.
A number of players as well as management have been informed by their employers that they will not be able to attend work if they travel to Antrim.
Government guidelines allow for travel from the North without quarantine or self-isolation needed, but WLR Sport understands that a number of the backroom staff and players now need to decide whether or not they will travel as they may not be able to attend work if they do travel.
It is also understood that the Antrim hurlers are now undergoing a round of coronavirus testing. Serial testing is not being carried out within intercounty GAA panels. Tests are only being carried out when a person shows symptoms and not as a common practice.
Antrim have a very small number of dual players, but the rate of covid in the county and the fact that intercounty players in Antrim are being tested will come as unsettling news for a Waterford squad who are already uncertain about playing the game amid the rising level of cases.
Further to the issues surrounding the fixture, new problems face the travelling party as they will need to be separated into three separate coaches to travel up. The new level 5 restrictions mean that only twelve people are permitted on a 53-seater bus. With a travelling party of about 34 people – the arrangements need to be changed from the norm. While making that five hour journey, masks would need to be worn throughout.
The squad are set to stay overnight in nearby Newry due to the sheer length of the trip to Ballymena – as if they were to travel up, play the game and travel home in the one day – it would mean for stiff and unready bodies heading into the game.
Likewise, the overnight requirement will be different from the norm, in that players will be required to stay in single rooms due to social distancing requirement. Not something that will affect the players readiness, but it goes to show the new requirements that need to be considered when playing intercounty games.
The elephant in the room remains that the game might not count for anything even if it can be played.
Antrim still have a hope of promotion, but it remains in the balance until the result of the other Division 4 meeting of Limerick and Sligo. If Limerick win that tie, Antrim’s promotion chances will be scuppered – calling into question the value of the Waterford and Antrim game in the current climate. With Limerick coming to the Fraher Field next Saturday for the opening round of the championship – one major benefit of the Antrim fixture proceeding would be the 70 minutes the players would get in their legs. Also, the benefit to the management team in being able to see new players in action for the first time.
With all the surrounding factors it begs the questions whether or not the game should be going ahead.
Longford recently handed a fixture to Cork as much like the Waterford v Antrim game, their fixture was to be a dead rubber and with nothing at stake for either team, the points were handed over.