Kieran Shannon: Facing into dark days, we're lucky to still have GAA action

Now instead of being confined to a diet of whether Burnley can beat West Brom, we can ask again: Will Clare beat Limerick this Sunday?
Kieran Shannon: Facing into dark days, we're lucky to still have GAA action

Tyrone assistant kitman Martin Keenan sanitises the footballs ahead of Sunday’s Allianz FL Division 1 clash with Donegal in Ballybofey. ‘A round of league action has prompted all kinds of exciting prospects and possibilities,’ writes Kieran Shannon. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve been missing until it’s back.

Only a short while ago there as the club championships were in full swing, inter-county football seemed so passé.

Like, who needed it? The fashion was to pronounce that if there was to be any GAA beyond September it should be the provincial and All-Ireland club championships. Forget will Galway beat Mayo, could Moycullen beat Knockmore?

Then over just one weekend, or even one slice of 70 minutes of action that you caught on the box or the laptop, all has changed.

No longer does a football championship seem academic, trivial or a procession.

A round of league action has prompted all kinds of exciting prospects and possibilities. Have Kerry found a defensive system that could stymie the Dubs? Will Kerry even get past Cork? Will Galway beat Mayo? (Not if at 14 they have Aido).

In fact events from Tuam had more than just Mayo people giddy at a thought that not even the club game, as brilliant as it is, can elicit or approximate: could this be Mayo’s year?

For all the confusion and uncertainty and drip-drip leaks that clouded yesterday as we all awaited the announcement of the Government’s latest restrictions on sport, the one thing that became rather clear early on in the day was that there would be an inter-county senior GAA championship after all, level 5 or no level 5.

And while it’s impossible to gauge, maybe it was some of the events and sights at the weekend that swayed it for the cabinet now that they’ve finally learned to use this GAAGO yoke.

David Clifford and Conor McManus swinging them over from another country. Ciaran MacDonald back in his kicks and togs. The Dubs stuttering and spluttering a bit.

Possibly like Pat Spillane and the rest of us they’re intrigued to see and know a bit more about this ‘cool dude’ Mark Moran; who’ll be left standing when Michael Murphy next runs into Conor McKenna; and indeed whether the Taoiseach’s son and his teammates can deny and shock Clifford & Co down in the Páirc next month.

Mention of Cork, Ronan McCarthy said probably the truest thing of all at the weekend: whatever decision the GAA and indeed the Gvernment came to make in relation to a 2020 championship, it was going to be the wrong call in the eyes of a lot of people.

How can small businesses be forced to close and families be kept apart when every second night a group of 30 to 50 people from all around a county can congregate to play a sport?

People from other sports are also entitled to be miffed that their sporting careers are on hold while the GAA lads play on.

Back on Thursday while the country was still at just Level 3, hockey’s and basketball’s national leagues were halted by Sport Ireland’s and the Government’s Return to Play Expert Group.

Basketballers haven’t bounced a ball in competition since March. Almost every county GAA player, let’s remember, was playing with their clubs into August.

Some of our international women’s hockey team would have wondered if qualifying for a World Cup final and the Olympics still wasn’t enough for them to constitute ‘elite’ status while inter-county GAA players, male and female, are deemed to be in that category. (Hockey Ireland though had earlier agreed that its national league, which all bar one of its national team currently play in, only enjoyed ‘senior club championship’ status, and that only the national team itself qualifies as ‘elite’).

And while inter-county players can keep topping up in the gym in their local centre of excellence so long as they leave some air and open the doors, other gyms around the country are having to close theirs.

In short, our county GAA players are lucky to be still balling into the winter.

But we’re just as fortunate to be able to watch and follow them.

The reality is some sports here are more equal than others. GAA simply means more to people here than any other sport.

And with the League of Ireland almost concluded there will be virtually no domestic sport to follow in these coming dark days and weeks — an indignity few other European countries will have to suffer, given how big professional soccer is — would make this winter even bleaker.

Now instead of being confined to a diet of whether Burnley can beat West Brom, we can ask again: Will Clare beat Limerick this Sunday?

Because if you thought last weekend was good, wait until you see the small ball back this weekend.

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