From chasing yet another Fitzgibbon Cup final appearance to the continued squeeze being put on third-level competitions, there is plenty exercising the mind of Mary Immaculate College manager Jamie Wall.
The Limerick college will Saturday afternoon contest a fourth Fitzgibbon Cup semi-final in five years, an indicator of how far Mary I has come since its days mired in the second-tier Ryan Cup at the beginning of the last decade.
The winners of Saturday’s semi-final double-header at the DCU sportsgrounds will meet in the decider on Wednesday, the 2020 edition of the Fitzgibbon Cup wrapping up almost two weeks earlier than was the case 12 months ago. This year’s competition also threw-in far earlier than previous years, with the first round having been run off on January 12.
Wall is not a fan of the new schedule which GAA top-brass are seeking to cement in rule at Annual Congress later this month. He’s concerned that those who hold the levers of power are blind to the role of the GAA — and its importance — in third-level institutions around the country.
“Personally, I think they have gotten it wrong, in that [the schedule] has just been squeezed that little bit too much. The Sigerson was over last week. For a competition of as high a standard to be literally ran off for the sake of running it off is an awful shame. There are definitely enough weeks there, you just need a little bit of give and take. In all of this, though, we need to step back and ask what is best for the players.
“One argument that gets thrown is that the general public aren’t interested in third-level games. That is totally wrong because there were hundreds at our quarter-final against UL last week and not all of them were students. I would also make the point, though, that crowd size is largely irrelevant because if we start going down the route where all that matters is what matters to the public, we won’t be long getting rid of club games because obviously inter-county has a greater following.
“For me, it’s what is the GAA about as a whole? What is the actual purpose of it? Is the purpose of it just to be an entertainment industry like the Premier League or is it supposed to provide a community outlet for people, because when you get into what colleges GAA really is, it is a society. If dancing is your thing, you join the dance society. And if hurling and football is your thing, you join the GAA club at college.”
GAA clubs at third-level, Wall contends, provide a valuable support system for young people, one which should be preserved and protected, not eroded to the point where they become endangered.
“College, for most people, is the first time in your life that you move away from home. These clubs and societies provide you with a support system where, all of a sudden, you meet up with 30 or 40 other lads who have that hobby as well.
“This notion that we shouldn’t let inter-county players play [third-level], so long as they are still amateurs and so long as they still want to play the games, they should be facilitated to do so because the bottom line is that these are still 19, 20, and 21-year-olds who are finding their way in the world and who, possibly like myself nine years ago, have moved to a new city, have moved two to three hours away from home. They too need a support system, a social outlet.
“The GAA was a huge thing for me when I moved out of home to Limerick. It really helps you settle in this new environment, and it helped me get my degree. That for me is the real purpose of colleges GAA.
“In each college, I can never get away from the importance of the GAA on a far grander scale than the actual trophies side of it. The personal development and holistic side of it is so much more important. It really worries me that if we continue going the way we are going, we are going to lose that and that will be the big loss. Obviously, the quality of the competitions will be a huge loss, if they are ever lost. Hopefully, they won’t be. But what would be a much bigger loss is the impact the GAA as a whole at third-level actually has on the lives of an awful, awful lot of people.”