Check the calendar and the news cycle fits perfectly. If it’s late August/early September, then all the markers are in place this week. An odyssey through the alphabet soup of GAA disciplinary committees is only to be expected this time of year. So is spiky confrontation on the field, given the size of the prizes on offer; sniping at referees off the field; former players weighing in to defend county colleagues; and of course the SOLD OUT signs, whether real or in online form, that suggest a heaving Croke Park this weekend.
Little wonder the game is dominating the GAA agenda all week. But is it the All-Ireland football semi-final replay or the All-Ireland hurling final that’s doing so?
For this observer, the build-up to Sunday’s hurling has taken a back seat to the buzz and hum of the Mayo-Dublin rematch. Maybe even a back seat to the back seat.
Partly this is down to the live issues involved in the latter game — Dublin wing-forward Diarmuid Connolly is ruled out at the time of writing, for instance, though even at this late stage there’s a sense of uncertainty about how definitive that suspension is. Compare that to the lack of news emanating from the hurling camps, in lockdown all week. This is normal procedure on the week of the All-Ireland final, but it looks inert compared to the updates and developments running into the football semi-final today.
Partly this is due to the nature of last Sunday’s game — jagged and bad- tempered, with plenty of expectation this evening will see more pleasantries exchanged, to use the apposite term, and no guarantee that the game will ‘settle’ at any stage. It’s fresh in the memory.
Simply consider the range of sports events you’ve enjoyed since Galway knocked over that injury-time winner against Tipp: An incomplete list would produce the resumption of the Premier League, a plethora of Rugby World Cup warm-up games, Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualification campaign games. Even Kerry-Tyrone and last Sunday’s semi-final have both served to push the hurling into the background.
The identities of the counties involved last Sunday have pushed their concerns up the agenda as well, or one has: Whatever Dublin are involved in makes them box office, and the combination of a controversial game and uncertainty about their sweeping to an All-Ireland title makes them irresistible to media outlets.
The opposite situation pertains in the hurling. Eoghan Cormican of this parish has reported all week from Galway and given clear indications of the excitement building in that county, but is this the case in Kilkenny, which has been involved in 10 All-Ireland finals (replays included), since 2005? Could you seriously replicate the level of enthusiasm found in Cork and Clare, say, in 2013, if your team has won eight of those All-Ireland titles?
All of this without taking into consideration the level of interest among general sports followers. Your columnist spent some time in four counties over the last week, two of them hurling-oriented, and in none of them was Galway-Kilkenny a topic of conversation: The treatment of Aidan O’Shea by the Dublin defence, yes, and the exploits of Lee Keegan in getting entangled with opponents, yes, but Joe Canning versus Joey Holden? Not a word.
This week, in these pages, Mick O’Keeffe of PSG Communications pointed out the need for hurling advocates and supporters to work harder than their football counterparts to get the same rewards, and the way the biggest day in the hurling calendar has receded into the shadows this week proves that. The danger is the dramatic draw last Sunday and the rumbling controversy this week will be regarded as a one-off distraction from the hurling final rather than what is, exposing a basic flaw in the promotion of hurling.
The GAA would be better served acknowledging this past week as an inevitable corollary of the ongoing issue with making hurling more attractive and taking the advice O’Keeffe offered — promoting the game on a standalone basis. What helps football doesn’t necessarily boost hurling. If nothing else, this week told us that.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved