No supporters is a backward step for GAA’s return in the six counties: Kilcoo’s Paul Devlin

DOWN and Kilcoo footballer Paul Devlin expects the return of Gaelic Games to be a “bit flat” with no spectators allowed in the six counties and has lamented not getting the chance to climb the All-Ireland summit with his club in 2020.

Defending county and provincial champions Kilcoo will face neighbours Clonduff tomorrow night in Hilltown as Gaelic Games gets the green light to play competitive games again after a four-month absence.

While a crowd of up to 200 can attend games in the south, guidance north of the border insists that no supporters are allowed into club grounds with Covid19 restrictions still in place here.

It is hoped there will soon be movement on this policy by the Stormont administration so that it falls in line with Leinster House.

In local soccer, the Irish Cup semi-finals, re-arranged for the end of this month, will be played behind closed doors.

Even though the GAA is a 32-county organisation, north and south administrations are not on the same page in relation to people attending outdoor events – a decision heavily criticised by former Armagh footballer and SDLP MLA Justin McNulty in The Irish News earlier this week.

“A lot of people would look forward to Friday night football,” Devlin said.

“I like playing in front of crowds. You don’t play football to play in front of nobody. You want to show your skills off so people appreciate what they’re watching, so from that aspect I think it will take away from the games.

“It’s going to be weird not having supporters and could be a bit flat. You’d want people talking about the games.”

With the ubiquitous threat of Covid19 still hanging over communities, Down club Atticall GAC promptly suspended training after it emerged one of their members tested positive for the virus.

The GAA’s safe return to Gaelic Games roadmap is undoubtedly littered with potholes.

“Over the past two months I’d say every team in Ireland has put so much emphasis on their training and fitness,” Devlin said.

“It would be a shame to put all that hard work in for it just to be more or less at a standstill. Hopefully over the next six weeks we’ll get plenty of football played.

“As a club, I know we’ve followed the protocols like everybody else. At the end of the day it’s a game of football, it’s just a sport. Life is what matters.

“You do hope that everything goes according to plan.”

Kilcoo, who will face Mayobridge in the opening round of the club championship next month, will not get the chance to retain their provincial crown or compete in the All-Ireland series due to the tight time-frame in place.

The GAA took the decision to suspend provincial and All-Ireland club championships for one year due to the loss of four months of the season due to the outbreak.

In January, Kilcoo were beaten by champions Corofin after extra-time in the All-Ireland Club final at Croke Park.

“You look at it and you think there are no retirements in our squad,” Devlin said.

“Who knows what would have happened. A lot of people were probably wondering how Kilcoo would have gone this year [if there was an Ulster and All-Ireland series]. Naturally, you’re thinking what could have happened, but we’ll never find out.”

Showing nerves of steel, Devlin converted the long-range free deep into stoppage-time that sent the All-Ireland decider into extra-time.

“A situation like that, I fancied it,” said Devlin, who expects to return to Down duty in September after the club season concludes.

“When the ball was moved up I knew it was in my scoring range.

“You grow up in your own back garden and your own field kicking ball with nobody there. When you’re in Croke Park on national television and thousands of people watching you, that’s the kind of situations you want to be in as a footballer.”

Devlin was among four Kilcoo men who won GAA Allstar Club awards in 2020, alongside Aaron and Darryl Branagan and Conor Laverty.