Ken Hogan is revelling in a strange GAA summer that has somehow revitalised the club scene.
Back in his playing days, the former Tipperary goalkeeper recalls strolling into a league match against Cork in Thurles beside teammate Michael Cleary, and selector Theo English enquiring how the pair’s morning had gone.
“‘Were ye playing this morning lads,’ Theo, who was 90 recently, asked us. And I was after playing a league game with Lorrha and Skippy was after playing with Nenagh, but he said, ‘ah I only played half an hour, we had it won at half time.’”
It’s not the way things work in recent times, of course, but despite the difficult circumstances, Hogan is thrilled with the way a split season GAA calendar is developing, with clubs getting first shot at the limelight.
Speaking on the Irish Examiner GAA Podcast, Hogan said: “This is the perfect scenario we have at the moment, unfortunate though it is. Every year we see a club team come out and the inter-county player is not playing. He may have a tight hamstring or he may be advised by the county selectors, don’t risk it this weekend.
“This year has been the great leveller. We’re giving every inter-county player a chance to prosper with his club. A lot of inter-county players have been brought up with this thing in their head, 'I’m an inter-county player first, my allegiance is to inter-county'. But we all know club is paramount.
“The inter-county player had to be educated about what the club is all about. Over in the field, mid-summer, when they were never there before at that time. The U8s, U10s, U12s see him there. He’s there among his people, training with his club, meeting the camogie players, meeting the parents.
“The county players are totally immersed with their clubs and it has given things a fantastic impetus, And it’s why there is such fantastic interest in the clubs scene at the moment.”
Hogan’s son — current Tipp keeper Brian — will be in action for their Lorrha this weekend in Tipp's Séamus Ó Riain Cup against Thurles Sarsfields, along with the fit-again Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher.
“Bonner is moving well, absolutely motoring well. He could be played in more of a midfield role for Lorrha. But he’s in absolutely superb shape.
“Before Covid came in, he was winning the fitness tests with the young fellas with Tipp so from that perspective in absolutely brilliant shape and if he’s injury free I can see a few more years in Bonner at inter-county level as well.”
And Hogan believes the standard of this year’s club championship may well be higher than ever.
“Watching the Wexford championship and the Dublin championship last weekend I thought the standard was very high. I thought the teamwork was very good and of course the impact of the county player paid huge dividends."
And while he accepts the restriction on crowds to 200 is posing huge difficulties for clubs, he hopes supporters will cooperate across the country.
“All these rural venues where people can arrive, we’ve got to respect the officials, we’ve got to respect the people that are there volunteering, the stewards. But there is a potential for acrimony at the gates and we don't want to see that.
“We were thrilled to see the games going ahead. For these fixtures, we have the live streaming, you are unlucky or lucky to get a ticket. We have to bear with it for this weekend, but I would be optimistic that there will be 500 for future championship weekends.
“We’re also talking about streaming the games this weekend. Say 15 Lorrha lads can’t go to the match and one lad says come over to my place and watch it here and we’ll have a few beers. Then it’s very easy have 20 people in the one room and no social distancing. That’s a bigger worry.
“The 500 in Cusack Park or Semple Stadium or wherever is just a dot in the ocean. And more practical than people watching in small sitting rooms.”
Listen on SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts, or Spotify