Earlier in the week, I spoke on the phone to my mother, who is in the Nursing home in Cahercalla.
It’s tough on all of our family when it’s difficult to get in to see her but, I could sense the excitement and energy in her voice for a reason; it may be late October but my mother still knew it was championship week.
“Are you on the telly Sunday?” was the first thing she asked me. “Have Clare any chance?”
My Mam has had her share of ups and downs in life. Her health has been a battle in the last few years but the GAA has always been a huge light in her life. Unfortunately, a lot of people in Cahercalla don’t know what’s going on but, equally, there are plenty in the nursing home whose lives have now been energised by having GAA games to look forward to.
That is one massive side to this debate, but I can understand the other side too, where small businesses have to close but the inter-county game can continue.
I know full well what it’s like to experience that stress, anxiety, and uncertainty over your business, and your future. During the last recession, my sports shop was chewed up and spat out after 15 years of trading.
I can remember those soul-destroying times when suppliers and bankers were looking for money I didn’t have. There were days at 5.30pm when I’d be wondering if it was worth staying open until 7 to see if I could get a couple of more sales. Then you’d look out on O’Connell St at 6.10pm and there wouldn’t be a sinner around.
You don’t know where to turn. You’ve no idea of what’s coming next. Even though it’s not really anyone’s fault, there is an element of shame too with the struggle. So I have massive empathy, and sympathy for all those people now.
Owning a pub, I also understand how difficult it is for publicans, especially rural pubs, who are on their knees, many of which may never reopen. On the other hand, we can’t just use the GAA as a lightning rod for our frustration and hurt just because the inter-county game has been given the green light, while nearly everyone else is stopped at red.
There is no doubting that some GAA clubs, and the people involved, lost the run of themselves during the end of the club season. It is nearly impossible to suppress emotion around county finals but, I’ll admit, the GAA needed to be chastised. Some of it had gone too far.s
It’s tough on clubs still to play county finals or semi-finals but I hadn’t a major issue with the club game being shut down. It can often sound elitist when pitting the club with the county game but you just cannot compare the two. It is a whole different level right across the board, and that will be the case now with protocols, procedures, and making sure that everything is done right. In that regard, it is easier to contextualise and justify the return of the inter-county game.
The counter-argument is how much more difficult will it be to suppress emotion — all around the county — after a Munster final or All-Ireland win? I don’t see that being a problem.
The tone will be set by the managers and county boards. Players should fall into line because they appreciate the chance they’ve now been given by the Government.
It would be wrong of them to disrespect that opportunity when so many others, possibly even their own families, are struggling in business.
Supporters won’t be going to pubs. People should have the cop on now to realise that house gatherings are not on. In any case, if people want to congregate for house parties, they’ll always find a way. They don’t need a match on TV for an excuse.
I also feel that if emotion does get out of hand, and the GAA — or the Government — do pull the plug, everyone will accept as much.
But when we have the opportunity to bring some joy into people’s lives, especially older people, why shouldn’t we at least try?
If you were to use challenge games as a gauge for form coming into this championship, you’d be writing a handful of teams off.
Clare would certainly be in that category after shipping recent hidings to Cork and Kilkenny. There has to be some truth in their formline, but I never believed challenge games provided an accurate assessment of where teams were really at.
Maybe that’s down to my own experience. Once I established myself on the Clare team, I treated challenge games like a health-screening exercise; I just wanted to get through it, with no bad news at the end. Because the last thing any fella wants is to get injured.
If, say, Tony Kelly doesn’t turn up in a challenge game, how devalued then are Clare? I have no idea how Tony went against Cork but that game was played a week after Ballyea lost the county semi-final to O’Callaghan’s Mills. So, I’m wondering how much Tony really wanted to play that game when he may have been marking a young fella from Cork bursting to get on the team?
For Clare to have any chance tomorrow, they need their main men, especially Tony, firing on all cylinders. It’s hard to know if they will be but Clare have to go at this like it’s the last game they’ll ever play. Being down some of their main men — John Conlon, Peter Duggan, Podge Collins, Colm Galvin –—Clare will have to savage into the middle third and absolutely go to war, something they didn’t do against Limerick last year.
Clare nearly need to look at this as a free shot, that all the pressure is on Limerick.
Yet, that attitude can be murder if you don’t handle it properly. You’ve got to test every fibre in your body, but also test every fibre in every Limerick body. Forget about this match doubling up as a league final. Forget about a Munster title. There’s just no tomorrow.
Limerick are reportedly in great shape, albeit they’re without Mike Casey and Richie English.
Yet if there is an upside to losing two of your full-back line, it’s how much it will put Limerick on red alert, especially when Limerick know the Clare full-forward line will be loaded with shooters — Shane O’Donnell, Aaron Shanagher, and Aaron Cunningham.
Clare may decide to leave one inside, with O’Donnell and Cunningham feeding off Shanagher. That is a dilemma for Limerick but they just have so many options and strengths elsewhere to control and contaminate the supply going in. Limerick’s panel to be too strong.
One of the lost stories of last year’s championship was how Dublin’s epic win against Galway was smothered by their subsequent defeat to Laois.
The pain was all the more acute again when (outside of Tipperary), Laois effectively became the story of the championship.
If I was one of the main Dublin players now, I’d be asking a very basic question of myself and everyone around me heading into this evening’s game: ‘If we can’t get up for this, or get over this hurdle after what happened last year, what’s the point?’ If I was manager, that would my core message to the players too.
If I was Mattie Kenny, I’d definitely have Conal Keaney leading the charge. You saw him in the Dublin county football final rattling into John Small like a crash test dummy.
Keaney may be into his third decade on the squad now but why has Padraic Joyce gone back for Gary Sice in Galway? This is a unique championship, with a later starting point, and you can’t underestimate the importance of warriors for a winter campaign.
Laois are meant to be going well but you can’t look beyond Dublin here. But Dublin also know that, if this goes wrong, where do they go next?