No more to see here, right? Kerry have saved the day, Tyrone will represent Ulster in the All-Ireland series and the senior football championship will be finished only two weeks later — three if there is a replay.
It won’t be long before difficulty is considered an opportunity and calls for the permanent return of the September final will resurface. The excitement in schools in the build-up will make a welcome reappearance and should Kerry beat Tyrone on Saturday week, the sweet decline of the evenings as they train in Killarney (and Currans) will be embraced once more.
But have no doubt this is more than a mere insignificance. The precedent set, though no fault of Kerry’s who simply want to play a semi-final, is one that could have disastrous impact on club championships never mind the conclusion of this All-Ireland SFC should similar cases crop up in the Kerry, Mayo, or Tyrone again.
As grateful as national GAA officials were for Kerry’s offer to play a week later and Mayo’s willingness to wait four weeks for the final, to facilitate Tyrone a second time was a major ask. They were willing to write off the €1m payday.
Why? As the Irish Examiner reported yesterday, there is likely to be an investigation into how Covid became so rampant in the Tyrone camp. The findings may never see the light of day but there is reason to believe they could have handled the situation that developed prior to the Ulster final a lot better.
Querying what more could have been done to avoid the Championship spilling into September is not, as some are making it out to be, prying. In less than a week, the GAA have moved the mountain that is their All-Ireland final not once but twice because of the situation Tyrone find themselves in.
Heavily involved in establishing the Gaelic Players Association, Tyrone co-manager and solicitor Feargal Logan needs no refreshers course in player welfare. And didn’t he suffer himself as a result of being a close contact and made the correct call to self-isolate? But it’s difficult to get away from the idea the ball was dropped more than once.
So what might be asked of Tyrone further down the line?
“It’s well known we had a few men out with close contacts and one thing and another with Covid. It was precautionary and we are taking no chances with it and taking advice from our medical team. It left us down a few players. That’s the environment we are in at the moment, you have a high level of Covid in the community and our people live in the community. They keep themselves to themselves as much as possible but there are risk factors out there.” — Brian Dooher after the Ulster final win over Monaghan, a game which forced his co-manager Logan to stand down as well as four players.
Question: Can Tyrone confirm that those players considered close contacts stayed away from Croke Park that day?
“We have guys on our team who are not given to even going out, they are locked into their football, and they are down with this. We at all times have endeavoured to stay away and avoid anything to do with this virus as a group, in our work, and socially with the players. But regrettably, the best experts in the world have tried to batten down this virus, get to the sources, get to their transmission and we find ourselves in this position, howsoever it arose.” — Logan, August 16.
Question: Did members of the Tyrone panel, in the knowledge that some of their fellow players were deemed close contacts, congregate in a public house after winning the Ulster final?
“There are a series of players in the panel who are vaccinated. Obviously, vaccination is a personal choice. They were kept updated by us consistently, as to the timings of vaccinations at the different age groups. That didn’t come about until late May, June, until it got in around the age group of this cohort. In fairness, part of the consideration this year was because it was a compressed league and Championship, we were anxious that if guys were vaccinated they might go under for two weeks. And that might inhibit their performance. Vaccination has been a conundrum. We didn’t make it mandatory across the board” — Logan, August 16.
Question: The entire Cork and Limerick hurling panels are vaccinated as are Kerry and almost all of the Mayo squad are fully vaccinated. Given the implications it might have on their fortunes, why didn’t Tyrone make it mandatory?
“It is acknowledged that the decision taken will cause major disappointment and significant inconvenience for the Association, in general, the GAA fraternity of Kerry, and especially for Tyrone’s patrons and supporters...” — Tyrone statement, August 14.
Question: If Tyrone had such respect for Kerry, why didn’t they give them the heads-up before releasing this statement?
He could happily drop out of this unenviable list on Sunday but where exactly does Patrick Horgan rank in the greatest hurlers never to have won an All-Ireland? We can at least put together a list of them for this century:
Ollie Canning (Galway) — Four All-Stars, beaten in two All-Irelands, Canning was the best corner-back for at least three years.
Ken McGrath (Waterford) — Heartbeat of those great Waterford teams, he may have played in just one final but was unbowed.
Tony Browne (Waterford) — For 23 years, he searched for a Celtic Cross medal. A phenomenally dedicated and stylish hurler.
John Mullane (Waterford) — Winning his fifth All-Star, his fourth in a row, he stepped away on a personal high in January 2013.
Dan Shanahan (Waterford) — The late bloomer looked untouchable for long periods in the mid to late 2000s. A goal machine.
Ciarán Carey (Limerick) — A hurler so stylish and honest you couldn’t but admire him. You couldn’t but feel sorry for him too after those two final losses in the 1990s.
Patrick Horgan (Cork) — An artist of a hurler who will overtake Joe Canning as top championship scorer if he is playing into next season.
Michael “Brick” Walsh (Waterford) — Next to Browne, no man gave more to the Déise. The most versatile player among this group and possibly the best athlete too.
Noel Connors (Waterford) — Career didn’t finish on his terms but it hardly tainted outstanding service marked by league and Munster medals and three All-Stars.
Damien Hayes (Galway) — Like Canning, he is a multiple All-Ireland winner at club level but the inter-county title was elusive for a deep down thrilling forward.
You would hardly think there was anything for Mayo to gain from Eoghan MacLaughlin’s awful injury in Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final win over Dublin. A double jaw fracture rules him out of the final but the incident actually had a silver lining.
As a result of the head injury substitution which was introduced earlier this year and endorsed by the Gaelic Athletic Medical Association chairman Dr Seán Moffatt who tended to MacLaughlin, Mayo were allowed to make a sixth substitution as MacLaughlin’s exit was officially a temporary one.
That extra replacement? Darren Coen for Stephen Coen in the seventh minute of additional time, a replacement which was so tardy in being completed that it afforded Rob Hennelly a second chance to kick over the 45 that forced extra-time. Had the Small-McLaughlin clash taken place last year, unless there was blood, it would have counted as a regulation substitution.
It wasn’t just James Horan who was enraged that John Small’s tackle on McLaughlin wasn’t enough to at least stop the play. Moffatt also appeared to be frustrated that the game went on as he gestured towards referee Conor Lane that a temporary substitution had to be made.
“I think this rule change if supported with further concussion training could be a game-changer in the management of suspected head injuries, diagnosis of concussion and its rehabilitation,” Moffatt said in this newspaper last January. Match officials across the board have to become warier of head injuries but on Saturday the new rule was a game-changer in more ways than one.