We’re 47 days from club action but the GAA is already back. Why? We’re giving out. A lot of it with good reason as much as some might have you believe that the appearance of action on the horizon should be enough to button it.
Such wide-eyed analysis misunderstands that the default setting in the GAA straddles scepticism and the race to salvage a season from 2020 having lost the guts of five months has only fortified the club v county battlelines.
The following cases of 10 counties underline that uneasiness:
Ronan McCarthy’s claims over the weekend that some counties are likelier to enjoy a longer period to prepare than others were interesting. Cork await direction from the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) before they consider revising championship structures they only signed off on earlier this year. Three groups of four may become four groups of three and Cork’s dual existence will mean more of the club window is required than most of counties. If McCarthy’s side are to face Kerry in a knock-out game, he will be adamant their football final doesn’t go beyond the October 4 date Kerry have pencilled in for their county SFC final. Will he be granted that?
The draft fixtures proposal would indicate three county football championships games between September 14 and the resumption of inter-county action on October 17. However, the club championship finals in football and hurling as well as relegation play-offs in football are down for October 18. If the senior status of a county player’s club rides on that weekend, how can they say no?
“I cannot see our managers allowing it (club championships) to go into October,” Clare chairman Joe Cooney said last week. Perceived as allowing the tail to wag the dog, Cooney came in for some criticism afterwards but it highlighted the realism that has existed in counties for some time now. It begs the question — are managers who claim they are happy with panellists playing with clubs between September 14 and the start of the inter-county season speaking untruths or merely delusional?
The county are taking that great advice to do nothing when they’re in doubt. County chairman John Devane criticised the overlap between the September 14 inter-county training start date and the end of the club window on October 11 — “In effect they are only giving us seven weeks,” he told the Nenagh Guardian before adding, “I’d love to know why they (Croke Park) are telling us two different things out of the same breath.” County secretary Tim Floyd has said both senior county managers want four weeks of exclusive access to prepare their teams before their first championship games. Liam Sheedy maintained a lighter club month of April helped the hurlers last year. Will their requests end up shaping the club championships?
Wexford’s plans to finish their senior hurling championship in August has been slammed on social media. However, some of the coverage hasn’t glossed over a couple of facts like Wexford being a true dual county and several of the county senior hurling panel expected to play club football into September, while only four of the 12 senior hurling teams will be out of the competition after two games as much as they could come within days of one another. Will it turn out to be a better balancing act than other counties?
It appears both football and hurling committees are looking at guaranteeing a minimum of three games to each participating team in their championships. Safe to say, the dual club player as he is in other dual counties has never been under more threat.
There have been compliments for the county board executive as they intend staging their county final on October 11. Senior football manager Mickey Graham would have been briefed but it is set to take a week before a crucial Division 2 promotion game against Kildare, which could then followed by another against Roscommon followed by a do-or-die Ulster SFC opener with neighbours Monaghan. Is that achievable?
Mayo have chosen not to upset their SFC format but run it off in a shorter time — six stages in seven weekends is hectic. Is it purely coincidental that both Mayo and Galway’s SFC finals are to take place on the same weekend, beginning September 18?
The idea of organising their senior football final until the county’s interests in the All-Ireland SFC are over is novel but whether it is accepted is another thing. Exactly who would it suit?
The plan to adopt an “opt-in” championship and insist any club deciding not to participate will not be punished has been widely applauded. That should be the case anyway. Is common sense in that short a supply?
The Tailteann Cup’s debut may have been postponed by 12 months but the spectre of tiered football is set to permeate All-Ireland senior football championship later this year.
If, as has been reported, most if not all county teams are only guaranteed one game — there remains the possibility of provincial runners-up getting a second bite of the cherry and All-Ireland quarter-finals — and the hurling sides in the Liam MacCarthy Cup get two, it may only add to the appetite for tiered football.
Cork footballers will have something to envy about their hurlers if it turns out that their Munster semi-final against Kerry is do-or-die and Kieran Kingston’s men can afford to slip up in the province and keep their All-Ireland aspirations intact.
The logistics behind a senior hurling championship are simpler.
The two provincial hurling championships could be completed in three weekends, while the qualifiers involving Joe McDonagh finalists in round one and provincial semi-final losers in round two taking place on provincial semi-final and final weekends.
Add in All-Ireland quarter-finals, semi-finals and final and the competition’s length is six game weekends.
An All-Ireland SFC with a qualifier system involves at least nine games weekends. A straight knock-out comprises a minimum of six.
There is a sense of regret among high-ranking GAA officials that the tiered football championship won’t see the light of day this year but the lack of it in the face of hurling retaining its own hierarchical structure could be a major selling point for it.
The Cork County Board’s stance against the brandishing of the Confederate flag at matches was picked up by The Washington Post late last week.
We can’t escape the sense that it has become fashionable and safer in the current climate to highlight such opposition to racism.
Not that this has much to do with the Cork County Board — chairperson Tracey Kennedy rightly highlighted her predecessor Ger Lane had taken a stance against the flag three years ago.
Five years ago, this newspaper carried the plea of Sport Against Racism Ireland’s Ken McCue to the Cork board to issue a statement denouncing it being flown by supporters at matches.
The reaction to the piece and follow-ups was largely positive but didn’t go without criticism, not from anyone you could ascribe as racist but ignorant of what the flag has represented.
Aslooks more intensely at the appropriateness of carrying the name of its city’s American football team, it’s only right that sport should consider its only relationship with racism.
Cork began to do that a number of years ago but more can be done.
As Jason Sherlock suggested on Sunday, it shouldn’t be enough to be just non-racist.