Would abolishing ‘pointless’ inter-county January competitions help players?

Would abolishing ‘pointless’ inter-county January competitions help players?
Cork and Kerry players clash in Mallow last Sunday. Is January fare an unnecessary burden?

By Peter McNamara

Not to sound like a total killjoy in the wake of what may have been a confidence-boosting performance and result but the reaction to Clare’s McGrath Cup victory against Kerry last Sunday was odd.

It’s the 12th day of 2016 and people are reflecting on a triumph for the Banner men as if they’ve just recorded a three-point league win over the Kingdom in mid-March.

Kerry prepare for their McGrath Cup clash with Clare in the backdrop of Fitzgerald Stadium on Sunday
Kerry prepare for their McGrath Cup clash with Clare in the backdrop of Fitzgerald Stadium on Sunday

Similarly, there’s no doubt a number of quizzical looks were given to the full-time scoreline in Mallow, also on Sunday as Cork defeated Kerry 1-20 to 0-18 in the Munster Senior Hurling League.

‘Cork beat Kerry in hurling by five points? Seriously? Jees that’s a little underwhelming’ was the general line of thinking.

However, in that instance the word ‘thinking’ would have been used extremely loosely.

One of the great conundrums of early-season results in the GAA is the attitudes of some towards the outcomes.

It’s bizarre to see, for example, headlines such as ‘Collins stays grounded’ in reference to Clare manager Colm’s post-match musings in Killarney.

“I wouldn’t be boasting about it,” Collins said.

Damn right you wouldn’t.

And Collins was bang on to be that blunt about the result.

Colm Collins was correct to downplay Clare's win over Kerry.
Colm Collins was correct to downplay Clare's win over Kerry.

Yet elements of the media do their damndest to overplay Clare’s win for the sake of filling column inches.

That does projects such as Collins’ one within the county no favours.

Has that victory aided Clare’s development? Obviously, it hasn’t harmed it.

However, in the overall scheme of things it means zero.

Ditto Cork’s success against the same county in the small-ball code.

It’s never about whether a side wins by five or 25 points at this time of the year or who they beat for that matter.

I would go as far to say that these McGrath Cup and Munster Senior Hurling League encounters are borderline pointless.

At a time-period whereby players are crying out for a reduction in the number of games they have to play wouldn’t it make sense to begin by scrapping competitions such as these?

There’s method to the madness so bear with us.

Firstly, what manager, in their right mind, pays any heed to how a player performs in weather and underfoot conditions such as the ones they are faced with in January?

It’d be like having an ante-post wager in the Cheltenham Gold Cup market on a horse that had just won in a November Navan mud-bath knowing, deep down, that the protagonist may not be anywhere near as effective on the, highly likely, better ground conditions the following March.

The reality is management teams, save for two or three places, essentially have their championship panels picked already never mind saying who will be featuring in the group of players tasked with attacking a side’s league assignments.

And if they claim otherwise, they’re trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

Provided management teams have their match-day teams and panels, game-to-game, available from Thursday evenings they should be allowed to do their real experimenting in the regular-season of the league.

If a team then qualifies for the knockout stages of the secondary competition, by all means have a rule in place that a, say, 25-man maximum match-day panel is allowed from that point forward in the league.

However, by facilitating genuine experimentation in the league it may open up an opportunity to rid the calendar of these time-wasting January exercises.

And the second reason for this suggestion is simply because managements can better assess those trying to stake a claim for a championship panel spot by allowing selection teams more leeway in the regular-season of the league.

Just because players have not really impressed in January fare does not mean they wouldn’t excel in the secondary competition in conditions less hazardous.

Fine margins and all that.

And yet, those individuals might have slipped through the net as they weren’t included in the league group following an underwhelming on-field January spell.

The reality is you can’t judge players or teams at this time of the year.

These ‘contests’ are worthless in terms of anybody learning anything of substance regarding the personnel involved.

Do they dust off some of the cobwebs? Possibly.

Does that justify their retention though?

While more and more stories emerge of players struggling to cope with the demands of juggling life and the GAA, is it time the hierarchy at headquarters began to discuss the abolition of January inter-county competitions?

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Wesley O’ Regan is the General Manager of Popscene in Voodoo Rooms, Cork city. Popscene opened last November and is Cork’s only themed bar that is dedicated to celebrating the best of the 80s and 90s. https://www.facebook.com/PopsceneCork/You've Been Served: Wesley O'Regan, Popscene

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