COLM COOPER has echoed Jack O’Connor’s claim that teams are training too much and not playing enough games during the championship season.
It was at Kerry’s pre-All-Ireland final press conference when O’Connor said that there were too few games played over too long a period. Players, he said at the time, were sick of training so much for so few fixtures.
Said Cooper yesterday: “We felt ourselves that, if you go on and win a Munster championship, is there a benefit in not playing for four or five weeks, which was the case in previous years? Certainly, I think there is no substitute for match practice and games.”
However, the Kerry forward went on to say that any alterations to the status quo would probably raise as many questions as they would answer.
“It is something that could improve the GAA but can it be logistically done? I don’t know. If you are doing something like that, you are probably looking at a league series which traditionalists will be totally against.”
This year’s football championship spanned 19 weeks — from May 10, when Mayo travelled to New York, until the final on September 20. Fifty-five games were played off in the first dozen weeks and only seven ties in the last seven. Clearly, the final rounds could be shoehorned into a smaller niche in the calendar but GAA officials have said before they would be reluctant to do so as it would reduce their market exposure.
Other imperfections in the championship structure are evident everywhere.
Counties that reach an All-Ireland final inevitably do so having played a different number of games, depending on the province they come from and whether or not they took the front door or the back.
Cooper disputes the suggestion that a Munster medal doesn’t mean as much as it used to but, as he alluded to, the benefits of winning a provincial championships are minute at best, potentially damaging at worst.
Four of the last five All-Ireland champions have come through the All-Ireland qualifiers, including this year’s Kerry team which played three times between Cork’s Munster final against Limerick and the All-Ireland quarter-final against Donegal.
“This year we certainly needed all the games we got and the best thing that happened us was losing to Cork because we were all over the place, really. We possibly could have won in Killarney by a point and we would probably have been beaten at the quarter-final stage.
“There is certainly merit in talking about it. I am sure that you will have counties for and against something like that. Will it help players? Probably. You will be playing game after game. Will fatigue come into it then? Where does the club scene fit in?
“They are just some of the issues to look at. Would it help the GAA? Would you get the bumper crowds of 50,000 at Croke Park? If it’s played on a league basis you wouldn’t.
“So, you are talking about revenue as well for the GAA and that’s a different topic.”
Cooper accepts that the system is probably hurting the weaker counties as much as it is helping them but Kerry can hardly be blamed for navigating such a flawed system so successfully so often.
The question now is can they continue to do so and that inevitably leads to enquiries as to the future plans of men like Darragh Ó Sé and Mike McCarthy, as well as Tommy Walsh, who continues to be linked with a possible move to the AFL.
“From what I hear, there’s no one going anywhere. There’ll be talk about Tommy Walsh going to Australia and Darragh retiring. That will be talk until Christmas because that’s the nature of the beast.
“There was no vows like ‘I’ll definitely be back’, or ‘I’m definitely going’. There’s no-one making any rash decision.”
For now, the focus is very much on the club. Cooper will be in action this Sunday at Fitzgerald Stadium when Dr Crokes face Legion in an all-Killarney affair, with the winner claiming a place in the quarter-final of the county championship.
There were suggestions that Cooper’s poor form earlier this summer was down to either too much football or a loss of love for the game, or both, but the player himself is ready and willing to jump into the club scene.
“It would be a lot more difficult if we lost (against Cork) and I have seen both sides of the fences with that. Even at that, when you lose you get back on the bike and you cycle again. It’ll be nice to get back with the club, get back with your buddies and the lads you are close with. That’s what the GAA’s about.
“Fundamentally, it’s all about the club. People will argue that lads are tired, but when you’re winning you don’t feel tired. I just want to get on and enjoy it.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved