It came as a great relief to us that the sky didn’t fall in on Sunday. If anything, the majesty of the troposphere over Croke Park that evening seemed to signal approval of the move of the All-Ireland Senior Club Championship finals from March 17 to January.
See, we had been the equivalent of a climate change denier on the switch from St Patrick’s Day. A right old Flat Earth ignoramus about the GAA disconnecting the very essence of itself from the national holiday.
We had form in denying progress. We were never in favour of the measures taken to prevent the All-Ireland final pitch invasion. The GAA almost had a hallmark on that unbridled wave of emotion. “Spoilsports,” we cried, while completely failing to understand the organisation wanted to make the experience safer and more pleasurable for players as it was reflecting the worrying development of Ireland’s compo cultureas a claim society.
We still do see the worth of the GAA taking some ownership of March 17, although the decision to stage the U20 All-Ireland football semi-finals in Croke Park on that date this year isn’t exactly like-for-like.
When TJ Reid last week bemoaned the breaking of the GAA’s indelible link with St Patrick’s Day, we could understand. His comments might have read as seemed strange to some, given that the previous date it prolonged his club season by another two months, but it was loss of heritage and tradition that concerned him most.
We have felt that way too about the GAA sacrificing their majority stakehold in the national consciousness in September.
While appreciative that the inter-county needed condensing, we saw more reason and opportunity in delaying the start date of the inter-county championships than upsetting their time-honoured conclusions.
Those decisions to bring forward the All-Ireland senior finals at county and club level were done so taken in good faith and a borne out of a determination to benefit the club. It took us time to fully accept that, but then something had to give to start addressing the imbalance in the club-county axis.
The senior club finals will again take place in January in 2021, with the semi-finals moving a further month back to December, the next step towards achieving a calendar-year season.
The fascination with the neatness of the 12-month season is something that has always troubled us, bearing in mind the pressure it would put on dual counties. That’s not to say that some of their championships are bloated and unwieldy — but when they those counties do more for the games than their one-code counterpartscounties, for whom such measures are easier to configure to, they shouldn’t be told to simply get in line.
The Leinster Council have already informed their counties that their championships will commence two weeks earlier this autumn. In his annual report, provincial GAA chief executive Michael Reynolds highlighted some counties’ unease with the implications it will have for their own championships. “Some counties are now of the belief that they will struggle to finish their own championships in time,” he wrote.
“This is a legitimate concern. However, one possible solution could be the moving of some games to finish on the day.”
Speaking to his fellow Kilkenny board delegates last week, Central Competitions Control Committee chairman Ned Quinn said that replays across the GAA spectrum could soon become a thing of the past across the GAA spectrum. We previously highlighted the trouble some have with how winners of the day are determined, and that mechanism will become more of a priority the more teams experience penalty shoot-outs.
However, there is also a school of thought among some counties that the sovereignty of their championships can’t and won’t be compromised just to get provincial and All-Ireland competitions finished off in a tighter timeframe.
We know of one Leinster county who, fed up with the lack of club windows in the summer, would have no problem surrendering their places in the provincial championships to ensure they retain the integrity of their own.
A suggestion floated before by former Munster Council chief executive Simon Moroney was raised again in this newspaper by GAA presidential candidate Jarlath Burns — the idea of establishing a uniform championship structure.
“The most successful club formats are based around an eight-team league format with the championship taking place after the league is played,” said Burns. “We are being too ambitious if we think we can shoehorn eight or nine club league and championship formats into the current fixtures plan and think it can all work.”
The likes of Cork and Tipperary have already altered their championships to reflect the GAA’s new world order, and while they still have room for improvement, they are unlikely to agree on a one-size-fits-all system.
Based on their size and dual commitments, who would blame them?
The GAA has learned that change is not to be feared. We certainly have.
But on the subject of county championship structural reform, it may be one step too far.
Advanced mark made up as it goes along
News that there are even more changes to the advanced mark doesn’t exactly breed confidence about its long-term future.
Remember, this was something that was put in place on a temporary basis in last year’s league and voted in at Special Congress in October and yet is in need of running repairs. If anything, it seems like a rule that is being made up as it goes along.
A request from the media to speak to GAA director general Tom Ryan at yesterday’s Allianz Hurling League launch about the latest tweaks to it and crowd-wise what was a successful switch from March to January was turned down so we couldn’t get the leadership’s take on latest events.
As coaches and players have begun to get to grips with the rule these past couple of months, Central Council appears not to be just reacting to what are flaws in the administering of it but the significant negative press about the new rule. John Costello, Dessie Farrell, Jim Gavin, Paul Geaney, David Gough, Conor Lane, Jack McCaffrey, Paul Mannion, Andy McEntee and Diarmuid O’Connor are among those who have questioned it for a variety of reasons.
What might have been good on paper or in the confines of an Aula Maxima is certainly not practically as the referees have pointed out nor fundamentally as those from Dublin to Kerry have highlighted.
To reiterate: a mark can now be made anywhere on the Gaelic football field. It does not reward just high fielding as the catch from a 20 metre or more kick from outside the 45m line need only be caught cleanly. It does not exclusively promote direct football as marks can be made from almost lateral kicks. It is no addition to the game.
How to avoid future tunnel rows
As the GAA knows only too well, match-day protocols aren’t always heeded. Dublin under Jim Gavin didn’t miss much in All-Ireland finals but they were often guilty of missing their cue to arrive onto the pitch. Not that any associated fines would have ever concerned them.
It was a row involving Dublin and Cork at half-time in the 2011 Division 1 final that accelerated the Central Competitions Control Committee’s work in avoiding such conflict. So with all the measures since taken, it might have been thought the ugly scenes at the end of normal time under the Hogan Stand were a thing of the past.
On Sunday a comprehensive Clár an Lae was posted outside each of the four teams’ dressing rooms on which it was explained which team had to stay on the field at half-time until the other had cleared the tunnel. It would have been expected the same measure applied in the event of extra-time and Kilcoo, to their credit, did initially form a huddle directly following the end of normal time but should have waited to make their exit to avoid clashing with Corofin players.
The manner in which the game came to a finish, it wasn’t surprising that the incident took place but if teams aren’t prepared to follow the GAA’s instruction, then instead of fines the teams should be ordered to remain on the field for extra-time.
Or, in the case of Croke Park where there are dressing rooms in both the Hogan and Cusack Stands, designate a side to each team.