Meath’s postponed clash with Cavan, rescheduled for Sunday, means they will now face into at least six weekends of action as their O’Byrne Cup final against Westmeath is pushed back again this time to March 11
That would be no problem to the likes of Jim Gavin, who believes the league should be run off as quickly as possible — “we justplay seven games in the league, it should take seven weeks” — but then Gavin is speaking from a ridiculously envious position of strength.
There are many teams who couldn’t dream of being competitive in such an intense, short space of time. Also, what if just one of those games fell foul of the weather? The GAA’s Central Competitions Control Committee would have no choice but to fix a match for midweek and then all hell would break loose regarding demands on players. In fairness to Gavin, he has stated he would prefer a later start to the league, which would reduce the risk of games being postponed, but choking an already suffocated league would be logistical and competitive folly.
Gavin is right on one count: The Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups shouldn’t overlap the Allianz Leagues. We should believe him when he said he didn’t compel Brian Howard not to line out for DIT.
However, and this is certain, he has created the environment whereby Howard felt he had no option but to focus all of his attention on Dublin. The Raheny man wouldn’t be the first inter-county player to face such a dilemma and concentrated on county pursuits. Across the association, there are young players having to make sacrifices they are not comfortable with. Like the Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cups, the U20 is now a transitory opportunity to play alongside those of similar age, but because of a GAA rule, the best in several counties will be asked to give it up for the sake of playing senior inter-county football.
A measure introduced to ensure the development of players is done in a healthier, more timely fashion will discriminate against those who feel they can’t say no to the needs of the county’s seniors. As for the leading college competitions, the message conveyed by Howard’s decision is clear: As one significant winner of All-Ireland SHC medals and All-Star recently told us, they are the next Railway Cups.
The ire expressed by the likes of Offaly goalkeeping coach Brendan Kealy about Sunday’s postponed matches underlines the need for the GAA to review its protocols on matches threatened by weather.
As forecasts become more accurate, the reasons for not having alternative venues on stand-by 48 hours in advance or postponing the game well in advance don’t hold up. Last-minute calls just won’t do when there is so much at stake, from the demands placed on players to the financial cost of the visiting team to travel a second time.
The concerns expressed by Croke Park about the mounting money spent by boards on teams ring a little hollow when they are twice asked to fork out for travel, accommodation and food for the same fixture.
GAA insistent on having its busiest fixture list during the worst months of the year for weather with no contingency plans!! Players all over the country having to rearrange work, personal lives etc. again. This game called off at 12.26 today!! #JOKE #actionslouderthanwords #gaa pic.twitter.com/vWT7QDF7Ph— Brendan Kealy (@brendankealy) February 11, 2018
Some of the reaction on social media to how Tipperary selector Shane Stapleton incurred the unfortunate head injury, which required him to be hospitalised after Sunday’s Division 2 game in Ennis, was dangerous, to say the least. As Eoghan Cormican of this parish reported, momentum appeared to carry Jamie Malone into Stapleton, for which he apologised. The incident earned Malone a red card, but there appears to be a question about its validity, just as there would be about those keen to pin Stapleton’s injury on a premeditated attack by the Clare player.
If this outgoing Central Competitions Control Committee are consistent, Galway and Mayo can expect proposed four-figure fines for their teams’ bad behaviour in Sunday’s Division 1 clash in Pearse Stadium, though there didn’t appear to be much going on if you were to believe Galway manager Kevin Walsh, who told one print journalist: “You’ve seen more than I have, being down on the sideline.”
Now, we can understand Walsh might want to play down a series of second-half spats and his use of the word “handbags” (how long before that expression is deemed politically incorrect?) would tie in with that. After all, Galway won and they want to move on as quickly as possible, but Walsh was as close to the action to be considered an eyewitness, albeit an unreliable one. To claim he saw no foul play, he must take us for mad.
Mayday, Mayday Mayo
The expected negative reaction to Mayo’s second successive defeat in this year’s league and fourth consecutive loss to Galway in competitive fare brings to mind a comment Aidan O’Shea made last October when he was looking ahead to the competition.
“You can probably write what next season is going to look like for us, up to the championship. We’ll win games in the league that people expect us to lose and lose games that we should win. There will probably be one hammering and everyone will say that’s us done for the season. You’re going to have boys back late, boys in Dublin who won’t be training with us. When we get to championship we just seem to be a different animal.”
Whether you believe O’Shea was rubbing a crystal ball or getting his excuses in early, it would have been foolish to predict Mayo were going to be sitting pretty after the opening three rounds of Division 1.
When, as O’Shea points out, so many of the group reside in Dublin and the squad’s only collective training session of the week takes place on a Friday, sometimes less than 24 hours before they play, there are difficulties.
But what was so disappointing for them in Salthill on Sunday was that they were genuinely trying to win but falling so short of Galway. The frustrations of the O’Connor brothers Cillian and Diarmuid were there for all to see and in a way both can count themselves fortunate, Cillian for not being dismissed sooner and Diarmuid for not picking up a suspension like his brother.
Having taken so long to return to Division 1, Galway’s rigorous pre-season has produced three wins and almost guaranteed security in the top flight. They are obviously on a different preparation plane to Mayo right now but another loss to Galway on May 13 and Mayo may wish it’s the kind that flies them away.
Two yellows for price of one black
Why? Of the refereeing we have seen thus far, there wouldn’t appear to be any new directive given to officials. Other than the new 20m rule for kick-outs, there haven’t been any changes to the game so that can’t be cited either.
The earlier than usual start to the season would appear to be a contributory factor. This time last year, teams would have only played their second-round game.
Now, the majority of them have three behind them over consecutive weekends. When fitness levels are roughly at 70% of what they will be in the summer, fatigue this past weekend may have played its part in attempts to tackle. That would tally with the majority of the red cards shown being double yellow card offences with many of the second cautionable fouls being committed in the closing stages of games. Having said that, black cards are notably down with players, it seems, now being coached to cynically foul twice if they have to.
The drag back is now considerably more popular than the drag down and doesn’t prompt an automatic substitution and, while the body check is no longer as prominent, players are stepping across opponents to arrest their progress while ensuring they aren’t black carded.
4 (Monaghan 2, Donegal 1, Tyrone 1).3 (Kerry 2, Dublin 1). 3 (Mayo 2, Galway 1). *Three games.
0. 2 (Cork 1, Down 1). 5 (Cork 2, Clare 1, Roscommon 1, Tipperary 1). *Three games.
6 (Wexford 2, Derry 1, Fermanagh 1, Offaly 1, Westmeath 1); 1 (Wexford 1).
1 (Longford 1). *Two games
0. 2 (Antrim 1, Waterford 1). 3 (Wicklow 2, Leitrim 1).