For many counties, the notion of this being a month for club championship action has looked more and more like an extended April fool’s joke, writes Mike Quirke.
It was always going to be a power struggle, but it’s interesting to see who has flexed their muscle most forcefully.
We were long aware, even if it wasn’t already abundantly obvious to everybody, that the clubs in most counties are at the very bottom of the food chain.
It used to be the county boards who ran the show for the good of the many, but in a lot of cases, I’m not sure that is the case any longer.
I happened to be at a production of The Wizard of Oz recently, and Dorothy and the rest of her crew could easily have been telling us the story of modern club GAA.
Off they trundled along the yellow brick road to try and find what they so desperately craved. The Scarecrow needed a brain, Tin Man wanted a heart, and the Cowardly Lion longed to be courageous. The closer they came, the greater the anticipation.
Ultimately, like those club players perhaps frustrated with the smoke and mirrors of their lot this April, the almighty wizard wasn’t all he was cracked up to be, and instead it’s the man behind the curtain that continues to be the one with all the real power.
In too many counties, the senior team manager tends to be an omnipotent force behind the curtain, pulling levers and doing whatever he wants in the best interest of his group of players only. He couldn’t give a flying fidddlers about what clubs want to do with themselves in April. Not his problem.
Take Galway football — absolutely no club championship being played while they prepare for a huge Connacht showdown with Mayo on May 13 for fear of injury or a lack of adequate preparation time.
Is it right for a county board, any county board, to sit idly by and allow the good of the few outweigh the good of the many?
Given their performance against Dublin in the National League final last week, they look like they are much further down the line than they have been in recent years.
They have adopted these defensive and counter-attacking principles, which are certainly a departure from the more traditional ideals you would normally associate with Galway football, but it’s a game-plan that is suiting the attributes of their personnel perfectly.
Unlike when Donegal converted to a more defensive identity under Jim McGuinness, it took them time to marry that mass defensive structure with the attacking fluency that would eventually lead them to an All-Ireland title.
Galway have seemingly bypassed that disjointed phase and skipped straight to stage two and the problems they caused Dublin only highlighted how far they have come defensively since being torn asunder by the Kerry forwards in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park.
Each championship year tends to give us at least one bolter; a county that plays above itself and surpasses the expectations most would have predicted at the start of the season.
Playing in Division 1, and getting to the final of the league, it’s obviously unfair to describe the Tribesmen as bolters, but Galway certainly look like a group that will take some stopping as they continue to refine a system that has given them a harder defensive edge while seemingly not diminishing their attacking play.
But despite the importance of their preparation ahead of their Connacht match-up with Mayo coming down the tracks, no county board should be allowed to preside over the cancellation of club championship games at the behest of anyone.
In Kerry at the moment, while county players are not allowed to train with their clubs during the week, club championship competitions are being played at all grades; senior, intermediate and junior all through April with finals already fixed for May.
That’s four to five club games in a stretch of six weeks or so, and every player on the Kerry panel will be better for it.
While not having players for club training is far from ideal, it is an imperfect solution to a complex problem.
Sure, there is a chance that guys will pick up injuries, but the same chance exists that injuries will occur inside in A v B games in county training.
But what about the positives associated with allowing everybody to play games with their clubs?
Suddenly, the whole panel of county players are in an environment where they are the best player on their club team and gain the confidence and match sharpness that only comes from playing games.
All players would pick playing games over training all day long, and twice on Sundays.
Perhaps, people might point to the fact Kerry are ‘only’ playing the winner of Limerick or Clare and can afford to take such luxuries by allowing so many to play in club championship competition so close to the beginning of the inter-county championship calendar.
But whatever about Limerick at the moment, Clare under Colm Collins have proven themselves a match for most teams in the country and have made life very uncomfortable for Kerry in recent times.
If they get over Limerick, which they should, they’ll have no fear coming to Fitzgerald Stadium on June 3 to have another rattle off the Munster kingpins.
But either way, that shouldn’t be a deciding factor as to whether or not county boards allow club championship to run in April as they were supposed to do.
In every county, the senior team manager position has developed into somebody who holds far too much sway over what is going on at club level within the county. By not agreeing to release players on the county panel to play games with their clubs, the county gaffer is doing a complete disservice to that player and his club.
Fair enough, the week before a championship game, 20 players could be excluded from club action, but outside of that 20, everybody else should not only be allowed to play, they should be expected and encouraged to play with their clubs.
If that isn’t the case, or if club championships are being cancelled like they were in Galway and around the country, county boards should be showing more leadership and need to start dictating to their senior team manager and not the other way around.
A lot of the problems of our association would be greatly helped by administration finding a brain, a heart, and a bit of courage to stop allowing the tail to wag the dog.
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