Tickets for one of the most eagerly awaited Munster senior hurling championships go on sale tomorrow and the provincial council are expecting strong sales.
What won’t be available in outlets and online are tickets for Waterford’s home games against Clare and Limerick in Walsh Park.
That is understandable given the reduced capacity at the ground for games which are already virtually sell-outs. News last week that stand tickets for Clare’s clashes with Cork and Tipperary won’t be on general sale indicates the considerable level of interest in those fixtures too.
There should be plenty of room in the LIT Gaelic Grounds, Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Semple Stadium for the six other round games but the crowds there should still be impressive.
The season ticket allocation of All-Ireland champions Limerick, who have a bye in the opening round, has jumped by over 1,000 since last year and the general support they had during the League was sizeable.
Cork’s fanbase remains healthy as it yearns for a first All-Ireland in 14 years while the Liam Sheedy effect has bolstered Tipperary’s backing.
The last three Cork-Tipperary games in Páirc UÍ Chaoimh have attracted 32,568 (2012), 36,827 (2010) and 42,823 (‘08) respectively and while those were knockout games, the attractiveness of last year’s fare and the keenly-priced admission should ensure May 12’s Round 1 game brings in a crowd around the 30,000 mark.
Is it the GAA’s best championship? It is. There is room for improvement in its scheduling but for its seven-week duration nothing else will get a look-in. Without Kerry, it might be said a competition that regards itself as the Munster championship is incomplete but then the Leinster SHC needed Galway to pull itself out of a ditch before Dublin and Wexford began to raise their games.
Besides, the Kingdom appreciate they have some way to go to mix it with the rest of the province. Speaking to manager Fintan O’Connor last week, he readily admitted that Kerry are not yet ready to participate in it.
“The Joe McDonagh Cup is unreal competitive for us. In fairness to Westmeath and Carlow, they were the best in it last year and we weren’t close.
"We’d like to think we would be competitive in Munster if we were there but if we had played Waterford or Tipperary last year in a promotion/relegation game… it’s a very difficult task when you’re not playing the kind of games you need to be playing against the top teams.
“Had we won the Division 2A final, we would have them next year but Westmeath did and it will be brilliant for their development.
Nobody in Munster can say they won’t have it tough, not even Limerick who along with Clare must play three weekends in a row. And we all know what happened last year to those who faced that 14/15 day gauntlet, Galway being the only team that managed to see out those games with a 100% record.
In Munster, there is no such let-off. Which begs a question we know that has already begun to be asked in some of the southern province competitors — is the Leinster SHC an equal? Should the same rewards and punishments apply to the Munster SHC as they do to it when the southern offering is stronger?
Or is that just vanity on the part of Munster counties? There may be an element of that but those three knockout spots in Leinster seem so generous compared to those in Munster.
There is an opportunity to taper approach in Leinster; Munster counties wish to have it so lucky.
The lopsidedness of the All-Ireland SHC is underlined by the widespread recognition that next year’s Division 1 Group ‘from hell’ A, which features four of the five Munster SHC competitors, is unfair.
Like Munster and Leinster, the same rules will apply to Group A as they will in Group B where Clare are the sole Munster representatives.
Trying to be equitable has unfortunately backfired on the GAA.
A draw based on an agreed rankings system and not NHL finishes, when this year’s league was treated more indifferently than recent seasons, may have been a wiser option.
The Munster SHC is not as touchable as a league structure but there may be a way to elevate its value to reflect its status in the game.
How long before there are public calls for it to be seeded over Leinster?
Diplomacy has been the order of the day for the Club Players Association (CPA) since Congress but there was always a sense there was only a stay on that stance.
GAA president John Horan’s claims at the gathering in Wexford that the CPA hadn’t put forward a blueprint of their own rankled a lot with the group.
Frustrations with the GAA’s supposed inertia in addressing the fixtures calendar came to the surface again last week when their letter to members spoke about “possible escalation” in their position.
With the inter-county senior championships two weeks away from this Sunday, pressing the nuclear button now wouldn’t have the desired effect because it wouldn’t attract enough attention. But that’s not to dismiss the strength of the CPA’s message.
What was the most cutting — and witty — remark in their correspondence was their reference to the GAA’s new Belong manifesto/ marketing campaign.
“Sadly in the case of fixtures, some of the sentiments ring hollow and conversely some ring startlingly. Uncomfortably and perhaps unintentionally so for the Manifesto’s authors.
‘Some of us used to play’ (a quote from the manifesto) — this will strike a chord with players disillusioned with long gaps in an uncertain season.” It was at last year’s Congress that the intervention of former GAA president Nickey Brennan ensured the GAA avoided the embarrassment of rejecting official recognition of the CPA.
The number of meetings Horan and GAA director general Tom Ryan have had since with CPA chair Micheál Briody and his likeminded colleagues would suggest there is good faith but it’s evident the CPA’s patience is wearing thin.
April has been a miniscule success story for the GAA in giving clubs more of a stake in the calendar. As Briody has said, the CPA want to go away but the GAA are inadvertently fuelling their existence.
Three years ago, the All-Stars football tour headed to Dubai. Not the longest flight in the world but a few players complained about feeling unwell the morning afterwards. Upon hearing one story from a footballer’s partner, this column offered her Panadol only to be told, “No, he doesn’t take paracetamol.” A further query revealed he was fearful of taking painkillers.
The story came to mind reading Lee Keegan’s comments about drink bans last week. If elite players are so acutely aware of what they’re putting in their bodies, then can’t they be afforded the trust to do what is right in their down times?
The former footballer of the year said:
Keegan cited rugby as a good example of how players can strike a balance between the game and socialising. Of course, rugby as a professional sport allows for rest and relaxation so much more than top level Gaelic games but Keegan couldn’t be more correct as to how unhealthy the perception of alcohol is in his field.
Keegan also spoke of Kevin McLoughlin’s wedding last October — what inter-county player dares get married at any time other than off-season? — but it’s also the time of the year that lends itself to binge drinking as players consider it to be the only period when they really let their hair down.
Much like the GAA calendar conundrum, balance is lacking.
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