John Fogarty: When there is difficulty, there is opportunity

Money, or the lack thereof, is a problem that is going to exercise plenty of minds in the GAA for some time to come but there are some positives to be gleaned from the current lay-off, writes John Fogarty.
John Fogarty: When there is difficulty, there is opportunity

SAFE HANDS: The Sam Maguire trophy doing a tour of the pubs in Donegal after the county’s victory over Dublin in the1992 All-Ireland final. The photo features in Heroes: The best of Inpho sports photography. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland
SAFE HANDS: The Sam Maguire trophy doing a tour of the pubs in Donegal after the county’s victory over Dublin in the1992 All-Ireland final. The photo features in Heroes: The best of Inpho sports photography. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Money, or the lack thereof, is a problem that is going to exercise plenty of minds in the GAA for some time to come but there are some positives to be gleaned from the current lay-off.

And they’re not too hard to find:

A draw in good time

The GAA’s Central Competitions Control Committee will never apologise for scheduling the provincial draws so far in advance. They like to plan and with many county officials being volunteers they believe giving them a headstart is necessary even if seven months is on the excessive side. Not that there is anything to draw in the Liam MacCarthy Cup anymore as both the Leinster and Munster championships are organised on a roster. Outside of Connacht and Ulster, there isn’t much excitement about the football draws as much as Cork and Kerry being pitted against one another on one side of Munster SFC raised a shrug or two. As we mentioned before, any change to the hurling championship format will require a draw and should it be either knock-out or return to the “two bites of the cherry” format the excitement around it would be so much different and joyous in contrast to the humdrumness of the autumnal events.

To win just once, that will be enough

We made the point on the Irish Examiner GAA podcast last week that a knock-out Championship could benefit counties who don’t boast the same depth as stronger counties. A large reason behind the success of Tipperary, Limerick, and Galway in hurling and Dublin in football in recent years has been the pool from which they can draw. The longer this cessation goes on, the more chance teams will be asked to beat others just once in the Championship (consider Tyrone and Roscommon have been in the same Super 8 group as Dublin the last two seasons). Doing that is considerably easier than the current formats which are designed to ensure the strongest survive.

Starter’s orders

It had been a hope of the late Eugene McGee (in his role as chair of the Football Review Committee) to commence all the provincial championships at the same time. That is also part of the proposal to redraw the football provinces into four equal groups of eight, which was to be discussed at a Special Congress in September. However, it is within the GAA’s power to take extreme measure for extreme times and commencing the Championship with a host of games over two successive days could be on the cards if only because it is necessary. Either way, it would be a veritable feast after a famine.

One size fits all

Uniformity of club championship structure is regarded as the silver bullet for the calendar year. Convince counties to follow a system along the same lines and finishing county championships in good time for the provincial and All-Ireland stages to take place in the autumn and winter shouldn’t be a problem. In any other year, that would be difficult enough to do — Kerry and Kilkenny, for two, would be hard parted from the way they go about things — but everyone is in the same boat now. If necessity is the mother of invention, this year may give some idea of how efficient counties can be when they have to be.

The revolution will be televised

Former Kerry defender Aidan O’Mahony’s claim in the Irish Examiner last week that the Championship will be played behind closed doors isn’t as preposterous as it might sound.

If the GAA want to go ahead with games this summer, there is either going to be caps on attendances, as Ireland eases its coronavirus precautions, or the recommendation will be to play the matches without fans. Both scenarios raise major issues for the GAA in terms of the millions of gate receipts that will be lost but they could attempt to recoup a proportion of that by setting up a subscription service for streaming those games that are not currently under contract with RTÉ and Sky Sports.

Honouring Bloody Sunday

The decision by AFL and GAA to postpone this year’s International Rules means there is a high-profile slot to fill in commemorating the 100th anniversary of Bloody Sunday on November 21. The GAA confirmed over the weekend that Dublin and Tipperary’s footballers, who were to play a challenge game prior to the Rules second test, are still due to play in Croke Park that day.

If the season is pushed back further, a game of greater significance to Irish people than an International Rules could mark the occasion.

Hitching onto GAA’s wagon in a time of crisis

REBEL REWARD: The Cork faithful gather around the Liam MacCarthy Cup under the Hogan Stand after the victory over Galway in the 1990 All-Ireland SHC final. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
REBEL REWARD: The Cork faithful gather around the Liam MacCarthy Cup under the Hogan Stand after the victory over Galway in the 1990 All-Ireland SHC final. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Watching the 1990 All-Ireland hurling final on TG4 on Sunday reminded us that there was a time when the Guaranteed Irish logo was worn like a badge of honour on county jerseys.

That all changed in 1994 when the GAA put their own mark on kits but there was a time in the 1980s when only the GI symbol featured on them. Often mistaken for the letter “B” backwards when in fact it was the letter “I” inside a “G” and resembled the shape of Ireland, it became widely recognisable and synonymous with Irishness.

It’s in that regard, not just on the chests of the games’ best players, that the GAA trademark has replaced it. An endorsement from the organisation carries a heft and don’t their sponsors know it. Sister stores SuperValu and Centra, associate backers of the All-Ireland senior football and hurling championships respectively, were savvy enough to hitch their wagon to the GAA last month in what was pronounced as a “Club Together” initiative.

Like so many sports clubs across the country who had been assisting elderly members of their communities, GAA units didn’t have to be told what to do nor should they be recommended to shop for pensioners in those companies’ network of outlets.

These grocery stores are ticket agencies for the GAA as well as paying them to have their names carried with the championships. The GAA don’t like to see such businesses as sponsors, more like partners. GAA director general Tom Ryan alluded to that last week when he thanked Allianz for their cooperation in providing insurance as GAA stadia became drive-thru coronavirus test centres.

Like them, the GAA too is a business but it is also much more than that. It’s a pity it should have to remind itself of such a fact.

Every cloud has a silver lining

So there will be at least a four-year hiatus for the International Rules as a result of the weekend’s decision not to stage the series this November.

Not since it was revived from the old compromise rules guise in 1998 after an eight-year break has there been such a gap.

When you’re explaining you are indeed losing and with each year that it took place there had to be fresher’s courses provided on the rules.

A regular schedule was key to it being supported by fans in Ireland and Australia but this is the fourth postponement now in recent years and it’s fair to say the hybrid game isn’t so much on the long finger now as off it for both organisations.

The news from the AFL would indicate that they, like the GAA, are facing a hairshirt period as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which could blunt their clubs’ aspirations of signing more young Gaelic footballers. You would hope that those currently on contracts aren’t severely impacted by the belt-tightening but a cessation in the recruitment process here wouldn’t be such a bad way.

While the dangling carrot of playing a professional sport was difficult for teenagers to ignore, this is not a game they grew up wanting to play. This great crisis has few upsides but keeping more talent at home isn’t too much of a negative.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie

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