Players and fans need some payback

IF ever there was an opportunity for the GAA to say ‘thank you’ to one of its finest group of supporters, it’s now.

I don’t think it’s being either partisan or jingoistic on my part to say that when it comes to following their team, the Cork hurling supporters are surely as good as any and have contributed hugely to the GAA coffers over the decades.

In common with most other dual counties, however, many of those supporters also follow football. On the weekend of August 9/10, the four All-Ireland senior football quarter-finals are down for decision while on August 10, Cork play Kilkenny in the All-Ireland SHC semi-final.

As Munster champions, the Cork footballers will be taking part in one of those quarter-finals that weekend, against a team from the All-Ireland qualifier series. Surely, as a gesture of thanks to the Cork supporters, those two games should take place on the same day, preferably on the Sunday.

It’s an expensive business nowadays, supporting your local county team, especially expensive if you’re doing what’s been done since the GAA was founded, and bringing the kids along, immersing them in the atmosphere and the culture.

While these are still good times for Cork GAA fans, it’s already far too well flagged that these are not such good times for people generally with the economy now taking a little rest for itself after the exertions of the past decade.

If the GAA has any appreciation at all of its fans, of all its fans, they will make this gesture now to Cork; one ticket for one day’s fare, one trip to Dublin, one day out. Anything else will be showing contempt for those fans.

There are those who will say that Cork fans should be happy just to be there, both teams still involved at the business end of the championship in August, but that’s not the point. This is an opportunity for the GAA to show some appreciation to those who help to keep the whole show on the road.

While we’re on the subject of appreciation, I hope more people now accept the right of the players to take action on their own behalf when they feel they’ve been pushed to a point of no return. The effort put in by the four teams in Thurles in the two All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals on Sunday was absolutely magnificent. Waterford and Cork took the spoils, but they were made to work it. Wexford were magnificent against Waterford, played hurling of the very highest calibre, and were it not for the absence for most of the game through injury of Keith Rossiter, the rustiness through lack of games of forward star Stephen Nolan, the penalty by Damien Fitzhenry that whizzed over the bar, who knows what would have happened?

No matter what team you supported, you just had to feel for Wexford at the final whistle. Same story for Clare. No credit for their performances to date, and I’ve written about that before. No credit even after this game, a game in which they should have beaten Cork, just more bull about how they’re merely a physical side, all heart but no hurling. Make no mistake, these guys can hurl with the best and Mike Mac had them perfectly primed on Sunday. Their problem was they were up against one of the best teams of all time, and I don’t say that lightly. The rivalry we’ve seen over this last ten years between Cork and Kilkenny is as good as any the GAA has ever seen. Two special groups of players, two special counties, what a semi-final we have in prospect.

Back to the players, however, and no matter how Cork now fare against Kilkenny, no matter how Waterford fare against Tipperary in the other All-Ireland semi-final, no matter who the Cork footballers fare in their quarter-final, I think the players of Cork and Waterford have already justified their right to take the kind of stance each of them took earlier on this season.

CORK hurlers and footballers took on their own county board over the method of appointing selectors, Waterford hurlers had had enough of a manager who had failed to get them to the starting line of an All-Ireland final during a six-year period when they are acknowledged as being on a par with Cork and Kilkenny. On these issues, I think the players were correct on each occasion, but it’s their right to take action I’m talking about.

Do we now doubt, for an instant, that these guys, all the top inter-county players, are special people? The sacrifices they make on an ongoing basis, the effort they put in over the course of a long, long season, the pain they endure.

Does that not give them the right to put their hands up when they see something going very obviously wrong, something they see as directly adversely affecting their preparations.

On Sunday, in those two superb All-Ireland quarter-finals, we saw the power of their play, the players of all four teams — are they not entitled to a little power play off the field, when they reach that point where they feel they’ve had enough?

Player power when it’s of the kind we saw from Waterford and Cork this year, on and off the field, I’m all in favour. So, to the GAA I say, give the supporters their due, give Cork fans a Croke Park double-header; to the fans I say, give the players their due. Their fair due.

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