John Fogarty: Four predictions for the revised GAA season

Expect the thirst for more football matches to increase this season
John Fogarty: Four predictions for the revised GAA season

BACK IN THE GAME: Newry Shamrocks GAA Club’s senior squad training at the Páirc Esler back pitches in Co. Down in line with the new Covid-19 protocols in place in Northern Ireland, which came into force yesterday. Picture: Inpho/Tommy Dickson

Appetite for change in football will grow

If the Tailteann Cup was a sprinter, it would have been disqualified last year but now after a second false start, its architects, including former GAA president John Horan who made it a goal to introduce a tiered structure for inter-county Gaelic football, might be wondering if it will ever get out of the blocks.

The truth is the novelty of knockout football will wane especially as football teams look over the hedge at the tiered hurling championship where there is a qualifier system and a league where there are more round matches. Six of the Liam MacCarthy Cup team will have eight or more games this year.

In the Sam Maguire Cup, potentially 18 teams will have five including just one championship outing. Even in a shortened season, there will be righteous cries that too much training is being put in for the guarantee of one championship game.

Not to be mistaken for a longing for the Super 8s to return but the thirst for more matches will grow, which in turn will prove quite the precursor ahead of the vote on the future of the football championship at Special Congress this autumn.

Ulster are the most reluctant to change but if their competition again hampers their champions in the All-Ireland series, that stance may soften ever so slightly.

Football league will still mean something

No prizes expected for making this prediction.

Try telling the likes of Cork, Meath, and Mayo that returning to what could be a fully-fledged Division 1 next season doesn’t count for much. Try telling Kieran McGeeney that after six seasons trying to get to the top flight that it’s not key for Armagh to stick around there. To beat some Ulster opposition in doing so wouldn’t go astray either. 

The importance of the league will be most felt in Division 3 where to be relegated virtually consigns a county to the Tailteann Cup in 2022 regardless of what football proposal is decided on.

Getting out of Division 4 in June will be considered the last opportunity for those counties to avoid the Tailteann Cup and because of London’s absence and the regional split it favours Carlow, Waterford, and Wexford, two of whom will make the promotion semi-finals.

Defending champions Kerry need to show they hurt. Just because there might not be finals across all four divisions doesn’t take away from the fact that there is plenty riding on performances and results.

Hurling league will mean less

Prior to the fixtures being released, we did wonder how the GAA were going to go about concluding the Allianz Leagues so close to the beginning of the provincial championships. 

We were reminded of the classic 2003 Kilkenny-Tipperary Division 1 final in Croke Park which Kilkenny won in extra-time and the cost of which Tipperary felt through injury and rigour when they were knocked out of the Munster SHC by Clare 13 days later. That is the space the GAA are allowing teams between the end of their league pursuits and the Championship, which is fair.

Not staging a league hurling final, unless the top teams in the Division 1 groups face off in Championship when then it would double up as a top flight decider, shows some creativity too.

But for the most part the leading hurling teams will treat the league casually. There was room for development before and now with just relegation to avoid there will be more.

With four Munster teams in Group 1 and four from Leinster in Group 2, there will be shadow boxing and teams like Cork have to test-drive players.

Many counties will start club championships in September

Certainty. The word that’s been missing from our vocabularies these last 13 months and the one thing we crave. It was on the promise of such that the GAA voted to introduce the split season at Congress in February. Having seen part of it in action last year, delegates didn’t need much persuasion.

The realities of this pandemic have contrived to upset the soft launch of the split season this year and so there will be club championships started if not in the latter half of July, then August, running concurrently with the business end of the inter-county season. Those with club semi-finals and finals outstanding from 2020 will look to organise them in August at the latest but that is all contingent on the counties.

However, to give club players the clearest picture and irrespective of the time constraints, several county boards will simply commence their championships from the first exclusive club championship weekend in September.

There may also be encouragement from Croke Park for such scheduling seeing as any calls to wait and see how the county teams fare would be perceived as retrograde.

Masters app should make GAA dream

Shane Lowry watches a shot on the 12th hole during the Masters at Augusta National. Picture: AP/Charlie Riedel
Shane Lowry watches a shot on the 12th hole during the Masters at Augusta National. Picture: AP/Charlie Riedel

I have a dream. I have a dream that one day the GAA will too boast an app as splendid as the Masters one pored over by so many this past weekend.

I have a dream that one day the beauty of that piece of technology chronicling events in Augusta, Georgia will be replicated on multiple game league and championship days.

I have a dream that just like that Masters app showed me that away from camera Shane Lowry had managed to get up and down for a bogey on the 12th after finding the water with his tee shot that I will see a potential game-changing sending off in the non-televised last round Munster SHC game. 

I have a dream that one day a video of the last-minute goal to send the Waterford footballers up from Division 4 will be uploaded and delivered to my phone soon after it was struck.

I have a dream that the latest barnbusting goal by Aimee Mackin or vital point from Denise Gaule will be delivered to my phone just as promptly. I have a dream that the highlights of Bellaghy’s win over Swatragh and the draw between St Finbarr’s and Sarsfields can be viewed the same evening as those games were played.

I have a dream that a clip of Davy Fitzgerald’s latest pre-match “I ain’t saying nothing” interview is available for my viewing pleasure just as James Horan’s post-match “sure look it” shrugs. I have a dream that with a flick of the finger head-to-head statistics and recent records are there for my perusal.

I don’t dream that it won’t cost money or that I won’t have to pay for it. But I can dream.

Ronan McCarthy’s appeal defence will be worth hearing

Cork manager Ronan McCarthy. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Cork manager Ronan McCarthy. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Such is the interest in them that the next time Ronan McCarthy, Paddy Tally, Dessie Farrell, and Seamus McEnaney talk publicly, an admission fee could be charged.

For his team’s training breach, Farrell will draw the most attention but to establish why Cork manager McCarthy unsuccessfully brought his case all the way of the Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA) will be worth hearing.

Part of his argument against the suspension was revealed in the DRA’s statement from Friday’s hearing.

“Having considered detailed submissions from all parties, the Tribunal held that while the Central Hearings Committee had erred in failing to provide reasons for the imposition of a penalty in excess of the minimum set down in rule, the Claimant had failed to establish any misapplication of rule or breach of fair procedures by the Central Hearings Committee in their finding that the infraction had been proven.”

McCarthy is too clever to contest based on what might be determined as a technicality and clearly there is a principle involved. 

Going back to what he told this newspaper in January, “We are hugely conscious of our responsibilities to our players, backroom team, and the wider public, and are fully committed — as we have always been — to following Covid protocols, in particular during this difficult period of escalating numbers nationally.”

It is known that the GAA take a dim view of individuals speaking publicly while there are under suspension so there will be some time yet before McCarthy will discuss the ban that expires in mid-May but before then, the full decision outlining his defence should be released.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie

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