John Fogarty: No time like the present for GAA clubs

It might feel like a summer lost but it could yet be rescued by the hive of sport taking place in the coming five weeks and all going well the business end of the championships will provide an Indian GAA summer
John Fogarty: No time like the present for GAA clubs

THE HIGH GROUND: Fans find a vantage point to follow the action from outside the ground in Sunday’s Galway SHC clash between Sarsfields and Portumna at Kenny Park, Athenry. Sarsfields won 4-22 to 0-18. Picture: Inpho/James Crombie

After deluges of rain darkened so much of the country on Saturday afternoon, it felt like a light was switched on that evening.

That an abundance of club championship games were thrown in seemed to make it all the brighter, as if the action was pushing against the slow but steady decline of daylights savings time. 

It might feel like a summer lost but it could yet be rescued by the hive of sport taking place in the coming five weeks and all going well the business end of the championships will provide an Indian GAA summer.

On Saturday evening, Twitter itself lit up as match updates streamed in from everywhere. As Conor Russell guided Douglas to victory in Páirc Uí Rinn, the Eamonn Corcoran-managed JK Brackens were denied a surprise win over Kiladangan by a late injury-time point in their championship first round game in Semple Stadium.

On Dublin’s Firhouse Road, a Clontarf team featuring club-only Jack McCaffrey and recent transfer Chris Barrett couldn’t sustain a lightning start to stay with defending champions Ballyboden St Enda’s.

On the footpath outside the closed gates of Ballyboden’s Pairc Úi Mhurchú, people gathered in good numbers to get sight of the array of talent on show. 

It didn’t matter that their view was slightly restricted by those who had managed to source a ticket or that they were a fleet of cars in front of them; they were able to take in the game.

In Cahirciveen’s Con Keating Park 317 kilometres away, there wasn’t as much of a feeding frenzy but the competition was fiercer as Glenbeigh-Glencar held on to see off Dromid Pearses in the first of their intermediate club football championship group games.

“There was a great intensity,” winning manager John Evans told this column. 

Teams are hugely fit, they have huge panels. Dromid have 30/31 and we had 30/31. There’s only 24 allowed in but we had that choice.

“Crowds had to be restricted but when players get in on the field they’re not really worried about who is outside the wire. There are no excuses for them not being fit because they’re all home.

“The pace of the game grew and grew. I watched a couple of other games and it was the same. Having been so long out of competitive football you would expect the first half not to be at the same level as the second. 

"The mistakes and eagerness was there from the start but as it developed those mistakes became less and less.

“Fellas came into us roaring fit. The players had been waiting with such expectancy and they had done so much work individually and they wanted to put it in. 

"They weren’t at nightclubs because they were closed and you could see the benefit of their gym work. Guys were looking for things to do. I just hope that the consecutive games don’t knock the sting out of it.”

The former Tipperary, Roscommon and Wicklow manager found the preparation period for the game was ample although all participants will need time to fully understand Gaelic football’s new rules, he feels.

“Everybody has got to get used to them including the officials. They went okay. Nobody did the silly one of kicking the ball backwards to the goalkeeper. 

"Possibly the calling of the forward mark wasn’t what it should be but that will get better as we go along, I have no doubt.”

For the time being, there has to be some slack cut for everyone. 

These may be championship stakes but after being away from it for so long and being asked to get up to speed so quickly the teething problems could be prolonged.

It will change but results right now don’t resonate as much as they would have in the past. It’s a result to stage the game. 

There is more reason to celebrate the throw-in than a score or the final whistle. And yes so many more people should be allowed in to see as much but as each weekend passes things feels that bit more normal.

When he spoke to us two months ago, GAA director-general Tom Ryan said the return of the clubs would be a cause for celebration. 

Those cheers may sound a little muffled but only for the fear that this could all come crashing down.

It’s natural to believe that when the season was brought to a shuddering halt in March but focus should be on the now and what is being achieved. 

“You can see how clubs are taking pride in the simple things now like how well their pitches look,” says Evans. 

”They’re lined beautifully, there’s no wear and tear on the surface and they’re showing they can enforce the guidelines and the restrictions. Everything looks so good.”

Given where we came from, Evans is not half wrong.

Club injuries raise big questions

Elsewhere in these pages, it’s reported that Galway’s footballers could be without John Daly for the Championship and remainder of their Allianz Division 1 campaign due to a knee injury picked up in a recent club game.

The news comes after Tyrone pair Pádraig Hampsey and Ronan O’Neill both retired with hamstring injuries from the league clash between their clubs Coalisland Na Fianna and Omagh St Enda’s on Sunday. By all accounts, Hampsey had been in flying form since clubs were permitted to resume training after the lockdown having had a number of injury difficulties last year.

Earlier this month, it was confirmed Cork manager Ronan McCarthy will have to plan without wing-back Liam O’Donovan due to a knee injury sustained in a club challenge game. Wexford’s full-back Liam Ryan damaged his foot training with his club Rapparees. We saw for ourselves Daithí Waters having to leave the fray earlier in the St Martin-Oulart the-Ballagh game last Friday week.

At least there was the welcome sight of Colm Boyle lining out for Davitts following his serious knee injury sustained earlier this year but the number of knocks appears to be mounting. After his club Austin Stacks drew with Dingle at the weekend, Kieran Donaghy reported three of his team-mates were sidelined having picked up knocks while another two could only play small parts of the club championship game in Annascaul on Saturday.

Undoubtedly, there is more club activity now or at least more serious club activity than there would be at any point previously and with that there will be a higher than usual number of reports of injuries.

All the same, would there be as many setbacks if there was a longer pre-season or if, we’ll dare to ask it again, county had returned first?

Rock's expertise has a market

Anyone thinking Dean Rock was doing something new and innovative with his free-taking masterclass has another thing coming. 

There is evidence going back years of county players providing services for fees.

One that was highlighted to us was a psychological and coaching combination devised by two former inter-county hurlers in the last decade. 

For three or three and a half hours, the workshop and session would cost approximately €600.

Anyone that thinks that price is excessive and not in the spirit of how things are done has yet another thing coming. 

Undoubtedly, some clubs would have baulked at the idea of paying such a fee and that is their prerogative yet there was no lack of interest in acquiring the services of the two players who incidentally had never won an All-Ireland.

Can you imagine just how much appeal there is for Rock’s expertise, for him to share the strength of his mindset? 

How he ignored that flying GPS unit, how his brilliant conversion rate in 2016 helped Dublin to All-Ireland glory? 

The honesty he showed in outlining the cost of his fees has seen him incur a lot of criticism on social media but the publicity generated, as if he needed much anyway, might have been worth the trouble.

Not a lot of what Rock has done for the GAA has come with a price tag. 

He would be aware of what it has done for him too. He is breaking no rules but rather breaking into a market already up and running.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie

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