John Fogarty: County is no longer the GAA's Big Bad Wolf

Club and county work best when they work together
John Fogarty: County is no longer the GAA's Big Bad Wolf

PROJECT RESTART: Referee Kieran Kelly throws the sliotar in for last month’s challenge match between Offaly club Lusmagh and Galway outfit Meelick-Eyrecourt. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Bedtime stories these days ain’t what they used to be. It seems before the PC crew were turning their bulldozers towards Fawlty Towers they were felling fairytales.

Not that we’re complaining all that much; two-year-olds should be spared the scares as long as possible (for no reason other than a gaunt Ladybird Book illustration, the crooked man who walked a crooked mile still gives me the heebee jeebees).

But there has been a whitewashing. Spoiler alerts: the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s clothes isn’t hacked to death anymore. The wolf now chooses to dine with rather than dine on the three little pigs.

The big bad wolf that county is perceived to be has been doing just that these last few weeks. In the likes of Meath, Mayo and Limerick, county managers have taken part in webinars with club coaches to impart their expertise and that of their backroom teams.

They aren’t doing it exactly out of the goodness of their own hearts, of course. It’s as much “help you help us” as much as the other way around. Clubs are being watched. Everything county players do for their clubs these next 11 or 12 weeks will be monitored by the county strength and conditioning team. But it is far healthier than counties taking players away from clubs or clubs being asked to squeal on their own.

Above pretty much every other county chairperson, Mayo’s Liam Moffatt knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the physical welfare of players. Not only a sports and exercise medicine physiotherapist, he has worked for several years with the senior footballers.

Under his guidance, there is a collaborative approach between James Horan’s set-up and the clubs. Horan and selector Ciarán McDonald have been attending club training sessions. “If you have a club player who’s also a county player, and you have concerns, our door is open,” he told The Mayo News last week. “Our team managers, backroom team and county board officers are more than willing to engage with anyone in any club and help them.”

Moffatt added: “What we’re trying to do is help our clubs, advise on best practice, and get that club feedback. It’s the way it should be and, hopefully, the way it’s going to be in the new normal.”

Inniskeen Grattans manager Oisín McConville’s intimation that Monaghan had been training may have grabbed the headlines but he was also complimentary of how engaging county manager Seamus McEnaney was with him and other club mentors.

“I have had more conversations with Seamus McEnaney in the last couple of weeks than I ever have, and I think it’s been more amicable because I think it has to be.

“A lot of the rhetoric I have heard around the country is there is a serious problem between inter-county managers and clubs. I’ve found it’s sort of flipped on its head in that the lines of communication have been open.”

Speaking to Off The Ball last week, Meath manager Andy McEntee spoke of a safe return to play webinar the county board’s operations manager and former captain Seamus Kenny organised where McEntee, his S&C coach former Munster and Ireland player Niall Ronan, coach Colm Nally and head physio Liam Hogan spoke to club coaches. “It’s about a gradual, safe return to play,” he stressed.

McEntee noted Mike McGurn’s interview in last week’s Irish Examiner where the leading S&C coach in Queen’s University warned of a pandemic of injuries due to an ignorant urgency to squeeze in as much training as possible these last few weeks. McEntee said: "Our physios, I fear for them. They're going to be busy, I think. How many clubs across the country have access to full-time physios? (It's) probably limited."

Even if he doesn’t say it, you know what McEntee is getting at; it’s what this column has mentioned before: going with county first would have been safer because it is a controlled environment. But this is the way it is and McEntee is consigned to that, the county final on October 4 the latest on their side of the draw in Leinster other than Carlow.

Although, you wonder who is going to stop the likes of McEntee should they chose to call on players whose clubs have exited the championship. As he himself said: “If clubs are out of the championship, I don’t think you’re going to get too many of them reporting them (county teams) to the GAA. Clubs have to ask to themselves how much do they want their county teams to succeed.”

The county manager may not have always known what was best for his players. He still may not but nobody can truly say the club one does either. But joining forces or at least hearing each other out has to be good for the player, right? And don’t wolves work better in packs?

To relegate or not relegate, that is the question

The United States of the GAA was never more apparent in how counties have treated the existence of promotion and relegation. A handful ruled it out this year, the likes of Wexford even looking for suspensions hanging over from last year to be deemed null and void (a suggestion which was knocked on the head by higher authorities).

Waterford’s executive had recommended that promotion and relegation be retained for their championships but the proposal was beaten by one vote. They believed they had the numbers but were undone. By who is the question although there are suggestions an individual may have been thinking about their own club in voting no.

Relegation is a major concern for the Connemara clubs who are working with depleted numbers as things stand and the pandemic has it even more difficult for them to source players. The lack of consideration given to the units most in need doesn’t exactly show the football board in the greatest light.

On the flipside, the lack of demotion does impact a competition. Asked about it last month, Donegal captain Michael Murphy offered: “If you get rid of relegation, does that demean the winners of any potential championship, too? Teams always navigate issues and problems with injuries every year.

“Obviously, the difficulties to navigate with Covid-19 and the pandemic are a little bit different. But it seems to me a little bit dangerous to be going down that road. I don’t know if you could protect teams from outcomes of games.”

It’s a position held by the majority of counties but as the virus forces more clubs to stand down albeit temporarily, boards may have to show some compassion.

Necessity is mother of invention for GAA

Like the entrepreneur who fashioned those five-in-a-row t-shirts back in 1982 after Kerry beat Armagh by 10 points in the All-Ireland semi-final, news on Friday that the GAA were recommending the wearing of face coverings at matches will have compelled sports gear companies to ramp up production.

Club and county branded personal protective gear (PPE) was already being manufactured - after initially letting many of their staff go, it was PPE that kept O’Neill’s going through the lockdown. And with the GAA’s announcement, there is even more of an opportunity to add an element of fashion to the practicalities of wearing a mask.

That was the case when it confirmed the sharing of water bottles would be a no-no. No sooner had that been suggested by GAA officials that personalised bottles with club and county crests were being made available for purchase.

You wonder if management teams will be as quick to react to the new normal. Even with a water break in each half, the end of the maor uisce role at least for now presents something of a hydration issue, although you may see the maor foirne double up in that position with disposable fluid sachets. And those breaks will provide a chance to reassess and discuss tactics.

The GAA now have an opening to silence the sidelines by reducing numbers within the pitch enclosure. They may have been thwarted in trying to kill off the maor foirne at Congress earlier this year but the maor uisce is the next best thing.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie

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