It wasn’t the GAA that coined the phrase ‘Super 8’ — they have the Club Players Association (CPA) to thank for that one. And it wasn’t the GAA that labelled April as club month. But if they aren’t going to fill vacuums others are going to do it for them.
April was never meant to be a club championship month — former GAA director general Páraic Duffy stated that wasn’t the intention and predicted many counties would hold off on the majority of their championships until August. But what exactly is its purpose? If it was an attempt to have county players line out for their clubs in more league games, it can’t truly be regarded as a success, although Duffy’s structure in his native Monaghan is worth trialling in more counties.
To even describe April as an inter-county break would be dubious when weekdays are filled with county training sessions and a multitude of challenge games are set to take place over the next two weekends.
But in this vacuum, the lack of competitive action between counties has afforded the opportunity to take a closer look at the club scene.
You would think those suffering live GAA withdrawal symptoms after the Allianz Leagues would be thankful for the club matches being shown by TG4 and eir. However, the fare so far hasn’t exactly been riveting. What was served up on TG4 the weekend before last from the Dublin SFC clashes between Ballymun Kickhams and St Brigid’s and Kilmacud Crokes and Ballyboden St Enda’s left a lot to be desired.
In what is widely considered the most competitive county championship in the country, the games were, for the most part, one-sided.
This past weekend, TG4 and eir showed three Limerick SHC matches between them where the margins were 14, 13 and eight points. Sure, those margins could be a lot thinner later in the year when we’re closer to the business end of the championships — and the televised Liam Mellows-Castlegar game in the Galway SHC was tight enough. But such disparities don’t make for good viewing.
Earlier this month, Dunderry goalkeeper David Jennings, he of the Racing Post, was black carded when conceding a penalty in his club’s Meath intermediate championship game against Longwood.
Jennings, though, was allowed to remain on the field for the penalty, which was struck to the net by Mickey Burke (in fairness to Jennings, he had attempted to walk off after the card was shown to him). He eventually left the pitch after the score and was replaced after the referee had been persuaded that he could not be removed until after the next break in play, which was obviously wrong.
It didn’t matter in the end as Longwood claimed the win, unlike last Saturday’s Roscommon SFC game between Pádraig Pearses and St Croan’s when Cathal Connolly of the latter side allegedly remained on despite being shown a black card.
The game ended 1-12 apiece but Pearses would appear to have a case to contest the result. The black card is now in its fifth season but it remains a mystery to some referees.
Is a nationwide refresher course required?
Corofin are enjoying an extended break compared to their fellow All-Ireland senior club finalists but major credit has to be extended to Nemo Rangers, Na Piarsaigh, and Cuala for making winning starts to their respective club championships.
What has been asked of them is quite extraordinary: Nemo seeing off Clyda Rovers 28 days after losing to Corofin, Na Piarsaigh taking their first steps to putting their final replay pain behind them with a victory over Doon 29 days afterwards and champions Cuala beating St Brigid’s a whole 14 days after a second successive All-Ireland title before taking two more points off Craobh Chiarain at the weekend.
Their seasons are bleeding into one, a fact which makes Cuala’s back-to-back triumphs all the more impressive, but the side-effects on players are worrying.
Tony Kelly only now looks like he’s recovered from his intense 2016-2017 season between Ballyea and Clare.
The toil of Slaughtneil’s dual pursuits these past few seasons meant Chrissy McKaigue felt he was unable to face the challenge of helping Derry avoid relegation from Division 3. Aside from those players missing out on their counties’ league campaigns, something Luke Connolly recently admitted frustrated him greatly, the lack of demarcation lines between seasons is troubling. The calendar year would put incredible pressure on already buckling dual counties but they may just have to find a way to make it work.
We’ve written it before and we write it here again: These four-in-a-row chasing Dublin side are an extremely likeable bunch. It’s a pity the media usually encounter them when selling or promoting something, which isn’t the most conducive environment for meaningful conversation, but then they are hot endorsement property right now.
They are more than that, as evidenced by Brian Fenton on Sunday leading some of his team-mates in a charity cycle in aid of St Francis Hospice and The Temple Street Foundation from Howth to Bray then back again.
Dean Rock lent Fenton a helping hand and so successful has Rock been in drumming up support for his place of work, Stewarts Care, that he is now their fundraising and communications manager while continuing as their adapted physical activity co-ordinator.
During February’s Storm Emma, Rock was instrumental in getting Toyota on board to help with four-wheel drives to transport staff in and out of Stewarts to ensure resident service users were assisted. He is also organising a golf classic for the centre, a day or two before Dublin’s Leinster opener against Offaly or Wicklow at the end of May.
By their actions, this Dublin group are showing they are leaders off the field as well as on it. Their philanthropic work can’t be used to justify the lengths they go to reap success; we’re thinking of Philly McMahon’s quote: “I’ve got to the stage in life where I’m playing for Dublin and ultimately the effect of that is going to help people in my charity, especially if I win it. So, I am going to do what I can to win.”
However, when Jim Gavin speaks of his players’ humility and generosity, it isn’t difficult to look for the proof.
If they are that way inclined, Waterford’s footballers have plenty of quotes to fuel their furnaces for next month’s Munster quarter-final against Tipperary, who you could be forgiven for believing have already won to face Cork.
But then that was the risk for Tipperary in going public with their anger at how the Munster Council have fixed a would-be semi-final against Cork just seven days after the Waterford game, while Waterford, should they win, would have an extra week. A couple of points need to be made here: This would not be the first occasion in recent times that a county has played two regulation Munster SFC matches in the space of a week. In 2013, Kerry faced Waterford seven days after they beat Tipperary. However, Kerry agreed to that schedule; Tipperary haven’t.
The six- and seven-day turnarounds are also something the GAA’s Central Competitions Control Committee have worked towards making a thing of the past in the qualifiers. It’s the very reason the Munster and Leinster hurling finals are on the same day this year. Their private opinion of the Munster Council’s decision to give Tipperary seven days to recover and prepare for a potential game against Cork would be interesting.
The Munster Council can rightly point out their suggestions for alternative dates were turned down by Tipperary but then they weren’t so flexible themselves, ruling out a couple of proposals. Being seen to treat one team worse than the other five does not put the province in a good light. The June Bank Holiday Monday might not suit either Tipperary or Cork but it is a considerably more equitable date than the one that is there at the moment.
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