Thursday, July 17 2003. Semple Stadium was the setting for the unique midweek All-Ireland senior hurling Championship clash of Offaly and Limerick, writes
This writer was among the 12,500 that paid into an evening game that Offaly won and which lacked much bite but then the pair had played just their opening backdoor games four days earlier.
Limerick had requested the game be brought forward a few days because they had several dual players set to face Armagh in a footballer qualifier that weekend. As it was suiting players, the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) made little fuss of the matter.
Much to the relief of the GAA who were facing the possibility of rearranging the schedule of their hurling championship, Offaly agreed to the switch.
With dual players all but gone, it was not out of necessity but opportunity that the GAA arranged the Carlow-Laois All-Ireland SFC qualifier for a Friday evening in Dr Cullen Park 10 years later.
A crowd of 4,606 turned up as the visitors proved too strong in the second half of a game the GPA had some reservations about but like Croke Park they were interested in the experiment.
Other than Armagh and Down playing out a Friday night Division 2 game in the Athletic Grounds 2014, that no senior inter-county league or Championship game has taken place on a weekday since then would indicate that the idea has failed.
The proximity of Laois to Carlow made that Friday game possible although we can recall the likes of Laois forward MJ Tierney condemning the decision as one that showed no regard for players.
Before Christmas, there was speculation that the yet-to-be-played Division 1 game between Dublin and Meath was going to be moved to Friday, March 13 so as to facilitate Andy McEntee whose daughter was to be married on March 14. Instead, the game was pushed to the Sunday.
There had been interest from TV stations in the idea of a Friday night GAA fixture.
As it turned out, Meath were relegated by the time the game came around so viewing figures may have been affected accordingly but that curiosity in extending televised games beyond Saturday and Sunday remains.
It’s a debate we could be hearing more of in the coming months if the GAA is faced with the situation that the only way the supporters will be able to take in this year’s Championship is via the media.
There remains a strong possibility of there being no blue riband competition in 2020 but with so much on the line financially and the amount of livelihoods involved the idea is sure to be considered.
That just doesn’t go for the GAA, who in the absence of gate receipts might want to recoup a good chunk of the €20.691 million they made from sponsorship and media rights last year; the GPA’s 2018 annual report showed the €2.895m of core funding from the GAA made up over 38% of their revenue (almost 63% if you exclude the €3m of government grants, which go directly into inter-county players’ bank accounts).
Before the lockdown, the GAA and GPA were locked in negotiations on a new funding deal. Like the previous agreement, there had been a breakdown in talks due to money.
The public utterances from both groups has been on the importance of the collective right now but needless to say if the GAA are going to feel the pinch so too are the players’ arm.
But that’s not all — two years ago the GPA brought in almost €900,000 in commercial income such as joint initiatives with the GAA like the PwC All-Stars and €737,000 in fundraising.
Needless to say, those figures will be greatly impacted this year. Right now, the idea of staging the annual gala dinner on the east coast of the US seems fanciful.
The health and well-being of the members is the GPA’s priority but there are financial costs attached to that — €2.323m was spent on player programmes in 2018, which you can imagine are being exercised a lot during the current crisis.
Like GAA president John Horan said about games on Friday, the GPA won’t be persuading their players to be rushing back to action but there may come a time when there is prompting.
Not that those in their 30s, who may have considered 2020 as their final season in county colours, need reminding what’s at stake for their careers.
Obviously, no return to organised Gaelic Games will or should be entertained until it is safe to do so and the best medical protocols will have to be put in place for players when revenue is being generated off their backs.
A commitment from the Government that the €3m grant scheme be safeguarded and not reduced as it was during the economic collapse would also be welcome.
Safety is indeed first but in the attempt to salvage something from 2020 flexibility for the GPA as much as the GAA must be second.
GAA is people and people will need games
Remarks from Simon Harris in the Sunday Independent casting doubt about “massive GAA matches” being played this year wouldn’t have surprised too many but they still hit a nerve.
For the most of the previous week and before that, medical experts had been casting doubts about the Championship taking place in its current guise and other events involving large crowds in 2020.
However, Harris’s words crystallised the matter for several people known to us who wouldn’t have been too complimentary to the man.
If Harris was simply trying to reflect reality, his words were devoid of the hope that many are attempting to develop. Nobody is expecting the new normal to be anything like it was at the start of March but an absence of what sustains so many lives is naturally difficult to accept.
Imagine TJ Reid, 33 in November, or Patrick Horgan, 32 next month, never again playing in front of a packed stadium. And not because their bodies weren’t willing.
Not because their talents wilted.
Before the lockdown and Carole Baskin became the topic of seemingly every virtual watercooler conversation, live sport was the only true communal event. It will again but the next time we take in a televised team game it will be very different.
The speculated resumption of the Premier League season in June will give an indication of what regular behind-closed-doors fare looks and feels. It may also provide the GAA with an idea of their last resort.
As former GAA president Liam O’Neill said in the Irish Examiner last week, the GAA is people first but it’s for them that there are games.
That need will become greater in the weeks ahead.
Daly and Co tough on themselves
We don’t know what Anthony Daly, Mark Landers, and TJ Ryan were wearing when they were on last week’s Irish Examiner hurling podcast, but we would suggest straitjackets.
Not because they were crazy in the Munster Railway Cup 1990-2020 selections that they made — the arguments made across the board were strong and for what it’s worth we would agree with two-thirds of them — but not affording themselves some wiggle room to accommodate some of the best players.
The equivalent of knock-out hurling, that.
Nicky English’s omission was a notable one, but Daly rightly pointed out he had played more hurling in the 1980s where he would be a cert for a spot and he did suffer from injuries later in his career.
We too have him omitted but only just along with Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, Tommy Dunne, Jamesie O’Connor, Brendan Maher, Ronan Curran, Declan Ryan, Michael “Brick” Walsh, and Seamus Callanan, who is probably unluckiest given his consistency over the past five years.
Looking back, that Ben O’Connor received just two All-Stars now seems outrageously unfair.
Anyway, using their strict criteria (maybe with a little leeway), here’s our Munster team of the 1990-2020 era: Brendan Cummins (Tipperary); Stephen McDonagh (Limerick), Brian Lohan (Clare), Brian Corcoran (Cork); Tony Browne (Waterford), Seanie McMahon (Clare), Pádraic Maher (Tipperary); Jerry O’Connor (Cork), Ciarán Carey (Limerick); Ben O’Connor (Cork), Ken McGrath (Waterford), John Leahy (Tipperary); John Mullane (Waterford), Joe Deane (Cork), Eoin Kelly (Tipperary).
County breakdown: Cork 4, Tipperary 4, Waterford 3, Clare 2, Limerick 2.