They don’t yet have a clubhouse but Somerton Park, which boasts a floodlit pitch, is an impressive home. It’s a long way from a 20-foot container and a council pitch. Winners at county, provincial and All-Ireland level, once crawlers they now walk. They’ve even gained the begrudging respect of their more illustrious neighbouring club. A St Brigid’s friend of ours refers to them as “Shelbyville”.
They are more than Ciarán Kilkenny, who is older than the club by five years, but would they be vying with St Judes for a final spot had their most famous son chosen to stay with Hawthorn? Thank goodness for his sense of belonging.
In an interview following his return, he declared: “I was raised to win All-Irelands.” The three AFL Premierships Hawthorn have since won pale in comparison to the trio of Celtic Crosses he has earned.
Kilkenny’s line chimed with what Declan Quill said in this newspaper last week – “In Kerry, you get involved to nurture fellas to win county titles and All-Ireland medals.” Quill’s frustration with how Mark O’Connor has been tempted away from the county to pursue a professional career is wholly understandable. His claim that Dingle might have had a better chance in their semi-final against Dr Crokes earlier this month was just as valid.
Like Tommy Walsh, there are several other stories about how much clubs have missed AFL players but consider what the presence of them has meant. Ex-Essendon player Michael Quinn has been the fulcrum for Killoe Young Emmets in three of the last Longford SFC titles not to mention the assured presence he has been for the county. Once a Sydney Swan, Chrissy McKaigue’s worth to Slaughtneil’s footballers and the newly-crowned Ulster senior championship-winning hurlers since he came back has been immense. In his off-season, Zach Tuohy has played a small but important role for his native Portlaoise in monopolising the county this last while. He wasn’t involved last Sunday week when their 10-in-a-row attempt was denied by a Stradbally side, which featured former Brisbane Lions player Colm Begley.
This past weekend, Rower-Inistioge gave Darragh Joyce a send-off before he jetted off to Australia in the hope of being a success at Melbourne outfit St Kilda. The south Kilkenny side reached this year’s senior semi-finals with the former county minor hurling captain Joyce shooting 1-6 from placed balls in the quarter-final defeat of St Martin’s.
Joyce will be joined in St Kilda by Westmeath’s Ray Connellan who was integral in his club Athlone capturing their first ever intermediate football title last year. Nine kilometres away, Conor Glass, possibly the best young footballer that Derry has produced since Anthony Tohill, will be working his way up the ranks in Hawthorn.
In Australia, they will add to the likes of Tuohy (Geelong), Colin O’Riordan (Sydney Swans) formerly of JK Brackens, the Hanley brothers Pearce (Gold Coast Suns) and Cian (Brisbane Lions) formerly of Ballaghaderreen, Ciarán Sheehan (Carlton) formerly of Eire Óg, Padraig Lucey (Geelong) formerly of Legion, Seán Hurley, formerly of Johnstownbridge, Ciarán Byrne (Carlton) formerly of St Mochta’s, Conor McKenna (Essendon) formerly of Eglish, and Paddy Brophy (West Coast Eagles) formerly of Celbridge. Never mind their original clubs, can you contemplate just how forceful Mayo would look with a half-back line featuring Hanley and Lee Keegan or what presence Sheehan would give Cork’s inside forward line or Tipperary with the prodigious star that is O’Riordan?
There have never been more Irish with AFL clubs than now but there appears to be more resignation than outcry about it in the GAA. According to Tadhg Kennelly, the AFL aren’t just agreeable to the idea of compensating clubs but have broached the subject in several discussions with the GAA. However, he claims they have been knocked back each time. Compensation sounds grand in principle but in practice is much trickier. It would be quite something for Croke Park to consider their players as commodities and create the type of precedent that would truly be the thin end of the wedge.
If more players follow the example of Connellan, Glass, Joyce and O’Connor there will again be calls for the GAA to end their International Rules series. Croke Park, in return, will argue that it’s better that they have a relationship with the AFL than none at all. But if they can’t stop or compensate clubs losing the players they have moulded it’s justifiable to ask what is the point of being in bed with them.
Quill has warned more coaches will become disillusioned if the fruits of their work are enjoyed by others. That should send a chill down the backs of the GAA’s top brass but there doesn’t seem to be anything they can do to prevent their core units being breeders for the AFL.
All they can count on is the good nature of these young men. It’s clear, though, that not everyone is blessed with the sensibilities of Ciarán Kilkenny.
Nothing new in finalised Duffy plan
GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail wasn’t too pleased with Cork for coming to an early conclusion on director general Páraic Duffy’s proposal for the football championship without having seen the finalised blueprint.
Released last week and discussed by county chairmen in Croke Park on Saturday, there was nothing markedly different in the revised recommendation save Duffy’s replies to criticisms of it.
Cork’s stance is unlikely to change and indeed there is bound to be similar opposition from dual counties.
Duffy’s determination to condense the senior inter-county championships is entirely laudable and clearly he has a mandate after the majority of delegates attending Congress earlier this year voted to bring forward the All-Ireland finals.
However, the introduction of a round-robin series in the place of All-Ireland quarter-finals has serious drawbacks, namely the difficulty for up-and-coming teams in reaching a semi-final.
Duffy appears to have little sympathy: “Our structure should ensure that the best teams will contest the semi-finals and final, which is what any championship structure should aspire to bring about. It should not be the function of a championship format to make it easy for teams to reach the semi-final stage.”
But nor should it be the function of a championship format to make it more difficult for developing teams to reach the last four. It certainly wasn’t easy for Tipperary to achieve what they did this year.
Sky to remain in GAA stable
The GAA’s 2017-19 media rights deal could be known by the end of the week but don’t expect much in the way of change in terms of the carve-up. We know more money will be paid but despite genuine questions about their viewing figures in the UK Sky Sports are likely to receive the same tranche as before – 14 exclusive championship matches along with co-televising the six All-Ireland finals and semi-finals with RTÉ.
There are some worried people in Montrose but they should again receive the lion’s share of championship games. Their previous agreement saw them awarded 25 live exclusive championship matches along with the six Croke Park fixtures shared with Sky. TV3 and Eir Sport are known to be challenging for live championship coverage but RTÉ may just be able to stave them off.
However, they also face stiff competition from the aforementioned pair in the battle for Saturday night Allianz League matches with Eir Sport having previously held the contract in its previous guise of Setanta Sports. Should the national broadcaster lose out, there will be another three years in which they show no live GAA for seven months of the year.
TG4 should hold onto their Sunday League games as well as the likes of the AIB Club championship and U21 inter-county competitions.