T here was a great atmosphere last weekend when Dublin and Meath played in the O'Byrne Shield final. It was a right good contest which served as excellent preparation for the opening games of the Allianz League this weekend.
At this time of year, though, the half-time break should be shortened to ten minutes, or less. Last week it was really cold in Parnell Park and both sides stayed away for almost 20 minutes.
Supporters were left hanging around on an icy evening. It would be a good idea if counties organised a bit of half-time entertainment and I am not talking about the Irish dancing and traditional music normally wheeled out for GAA occasions. A bit of lateral thinking would be helpful -- some of the French rugby teams have such quality entertainment at the interval that it attracts a crowd in itself. Racing Metro's half-time antics might be a bit risqué for the GAA audience but something new is needed to attract families on cold spring days.
There is no problem in Parnell Park in this regard. When I was at the Dublin county final last year I was impressed by the fact that as soon as the half-time whistle went the pitch was invaded by youngsters of all ages. Different groups took over sections of the field and kicked and hurled until the teams came back out and they suddenly just melted back into the crowd.
The same happened last week and I was like a farmer trying to throw a count on a big field of moving bullocks as I tried to estimate how many were on the pitch. A rough figure would be around the 200 mark but what impressed me even more was the fact that the ground was very bare and officials could easily have said that they wanted to protect the surface. Instead, the stewards shepherded the kids on and off. (When I was a youngster, you took your life in your hands if you dared to enter the pitch.)
I hope that for Meath's first home game in Navan an invitation is issued to all kids to bring a ball and go for a kick-around at half-time and that the officials in yellow bibs who guard gates like their lives depended on it could open the locks for the next generation. Imagine the interest it would create in a primary school if the word went out that there would be a free-for-all at the next game. The crowd would double and the kids might even watch a bit of it.
Anything would be better than nothing at half-time since the sanitisation of games has been completed by not even letting subs have a kick-about. There were days when much of the best action was at half-time when subs did bicycle kicks, diving headers and half-volleys just to entertain the crowd.
Going back a bit further, the subs would only have one ball and two groups would form, one in at the goals and the other out the field and the ball would be kicked up high between the two groups. That was the time when the high fielder was king so a small fellow might not get a kick at all. The entertainment was usually added to by some spectators joining in the fun and there were occasions when some poor unfortunate had to leave the action with the arse gone in his Sunday trousers.
I hope now that with the Dubs heading for Croke Park for all their home games that they continue this practice. They might encounter some opposition from the groundsmen, but if there is any pitch in the country where a couple of hundred kids would do no harm, then it is Croke Park. And I hope that some of the rather rough stewards that we have seen around at times recently in Croke Park are reined in on these occasions. I can see how thousands of adults on the pitch could do some damage but open the gates and let the kids on. It would make the days and nights special for them. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh siad.
If Dublin are the best at looking after the kids, Longford are trying some types of promotion too and it is a pity that all counties don't get more home games in better weather conditions when a good marketing job would add thousands to the gate.
Dublin played their first game last night but there will be plenty of time to comment on them as they look like they will have a long year. After doing a Devon Loch last August there is only one measurement of success this time.
Players, of course, are happy with a Saturday night game as they can go out afterwards and get a lie-in on Sunday. There has to be a bit of fun in playing county football -- most of the time now the impression given is that it is hard work. If it is not enjoyable and if there is not a social life with it then it is not worth doing.
The Cork-Kerry game is the main attraction today. Even if Cork look down from a lofty perch
at the moment, the search for new talent goes on. Most All-Ireland winners coast through the league but Cork are a bit different; they just don't have that natural flair which would leave games easy for them. Instead, they have to be operating close to capacity to see off the big teams in the league. The fact that ten of their All-Ireland team start today is a case in point. The search for a Gooch-type predator goes on and if they can find someone like that then they will be winning All-Irelands for the next five years as they have power and pace. All they need is that little bit of finesse to finish the circle. Even still they will be the team to beat because confidence is also a big part and they now have a serious injection of that commodity.
If the league is vital for Cork, then it is even more so for Kerry. They need to find half a dozen players. There are no obvious replacements for centre-back, midfield or some of the wing men in defence. Tomás ó Sé's engine can't last forever. Of course Kerry will hope to have Ralph Lauren Galvin back from Milan for all the big matches and his appearance, whenever it comes, will add to the attendance.
Today will be no ordinary league game either and it would be very disappointing if there is not a bit of skin and hair flying. The players will be looking on it as the right way to set out their stall for the season. Start as you mean to go on. Take no prisoners.
Sunday Indo Sport