Wednesday 28 June 2017

GAA's early bird controversy menu

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

THE new GAA season certainly hasn't waited long to hand out some lively discussion papers but then it tends to do that every year, as if to test reactions after the long winter hibernation. The range of talking points will increase over the coming weeks but already there's an interesting early bird menu to choose from.

Start with the strange case of why Galway footballers Kieran Fitzgerald and Niall Coleman quit the panel after one league game.

Then there's the search for survivors from the Wexford hurling cruiser which ran aground in Galway Bay last Sunday, and Clare's woes after being thrashed by a reunited Limerick team, having its first competitive game for 18 months.

And what of the mysterious cases where inter-county squads who weren't supposed to train together until January 1 have, in some cases at least, looked as fit and as comfortable together as if they had been at it for months? God, isn't personal discipline and telepathy wonderful, all the same?

Now, now, no scepticism! Of course, they all abided by the November-December ban. Didn't their county boards support the new rule, so surely they wouldn't allow team managers to ignore official policy, however contentious it might be? What's that? Some would. Really?

Departure

Training bans are the least of Galway football's concerns as it reacts to the surprise departure of two players.

The official explanation is that Fitzgerald quit due to a hamstring problem while Coleman, a carpenter, can't commit the necessary time to inter-county football.

Fitzgerald didn't mention hamstring problems at the Allianz League launch two weeks ago, where he represented Galway in the rather unusual role as one of three joint-captains. And if the hamstring problem flared up since then, why should it prompt his withdrawal?

Injured players undergo treatment while remaining on the panel, all the more so for those with a leadership role as was the case with Fitzgerald. As for Coleman, it's odd that having been on the squad up to the Monaghan game, where he came on as a sub, the work issue only arose afterwards.

Most intriguing of all, especially for those with a conspiratorial leaning, is that news of the pair's departure broke on the same day. Frankly, it would be easier to sell Anglo Irish Bank shares at their 2007 prices than the story that there's nothing more than a hamstring and work pressure behind the withdrawal of two experienced players in mid-February.

Just who he can get onto the panel, and indeed into the team, in order to arrest the dramatic slide is the challenge facing Colm Bonnar after Wexford's dismal performance against Galway in the NHL on Sunday. Bad enough to lose by 21 points, but the awful performance was compounded by a shockingly low scoring rate.

Add it all on to their championship defeats by Galway and Tipperary last year and it leaves Wexford with an embarrassing three-match return: for 1-39; against 6-70 -- an average loss of over 15 points per game.

If ever they needed to summon the spirit and bravery which epitomised Wexford hurling down through the years, it's next Sunday when Waterford visit Wexford Park. Wexford would always fancy themselves against Waterford, so this really is a test of their psychological disposition.

They need to show real courage and tenacity because with three of their remaining five games away from home after that, there's no easy route to avoiding relegation. Dropping back into Division 2 after being promoted last year would be another damaging hit for Wexford at a time when they're very brittle anyway.

As for Clare, they still have the opportunity to relaunch themselves in Division 2, but now have a much-reduced margin of error following the big defeat by Limerick.

It's entirely possible that history, albeit of the unfortunate variety for Wexford and Clare, was created when they managed just three points from open play between them last Sunday.

Think about it. A mere three points (Wexford 2, Clare 1) in 140 minutes -- you would expect U-16 teams to score more, even against seniors. Did two traditionally strong hurling counties ever endure such a shattering experience on the same afternoon before? What's more, their total scores were pretty miserable too, with each managing 0-6.

Strange times, even as the new season wipes the sleep from its eyes.

Starters

Two Galway players walk away from panel

Main Course

Bonnar's Wexford suffer another hammering

Dessert

Clare have no margin for error after loss to Limerick

Irish Independent

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