Monday 20 May 2019

Eugene McGee: A day of celebration

County finals showcase best of GAA and light up whole parishes, but we must not take club players for granted

Eugene McGee

County finals in the GAA must be one of the greatest phenomena in Irish sport. Bearing in mind that media coverage of GAA tends to concentrate on inter-county activity, it is truly remarkable that county football and hurling finals still take on a life of their own.

At this time of the year, these finals light up every county in Ireland.

If you are fortunate enough to traverse this country in these months, as I did thanks to the Football Review Committee, you will be struck by the dramatic impact a local county final can make on the entire population of the respective parishes for a few weeks at least.

The visible trappings of the big occasion -- flags, bunting and publicity gimmicks of all sorts -- dominate the parish and help to designate the parish boundaries better than any map could.

As soon as you move away from the excited county final parish you will notice a more normal lifestyle, but, of course, whenever there is a final between two neighbouring parishes then the sky is the limit as fans compete to make the greatest visual impact possible.

And the wonderful thing about county finals is that the excitement is not just confined to senior level.

We also have finals in minor, junior and intermediate, and if you are from a dual county of substance then half the county can be a wonderland of GAA fervour for a few weeks.

Every year there are special finals that engender an extra frisson of excitement.

A club going for the first title, another waiting up to 50 years to return to the top, or maybe a club trying to win a record-breaking number of county finals -- these and many other exciting possibilities can drive their supporters into dreamland.

For emigrants, of course, county finals have a very special meaning because they represent probably the most tangible link with their native place.

There was a time when emigrants might have to wait days to hear the result, but thanks to internet, they can listen live to their local radio commentary or even watch the game.

In many cases, the quality of the football in county finals can be only fair to middling, because club players cannot be expected to handle the pressure of one of these local battles, and anyway the standard in club games is quite a bit removed from inter-county stuff.

The same is true for the majority of the All-Ireland club championship games during the winter months.


But the county final is the real thing for fans and players. It is often forgotten that more than 98pc of the approximately 200,000 who play football will never be involved with playing inter-county, but a huge number of these young men apply themselves as fervently to their club team as the star county players.

And most of these players make greater sacrifices than the county players too -- for example, I know of no club players who are paid expenses to travel from Dublin or elsewhere to train.

County finals all over Ireland provide a never-ending source of invigoration for football and hurling every year that many other sports must really envy.

These players should not be taken for granted by the GAA and there is great resentment among club players in many counties about the negligent manner in which county boards run their club matches in summertime.

But if you are fortunate enough to be a player or supporter from a club that wins a county final, then the subsequent ecstasy covers a multitude.

Quinn's hometown glory

A few years ago, Michael Quinn played with Essendon in the AFL before a crowd of 45,000, but yesterday he was in action in front of one-tenth of that audience while playing with his home parish Killoe in the Longford county final.

They eventually managed to overcome the holders Longford Slashers after extra-time in their replay, and I have no doubt Quinn got greater satisfaction out of that than anything he achieved on the other side of the world.

It had been 18 years since Killoe won the Longford senior title and to take the crown by beating the reigning champions added to the achievement. Everything good about a county final was on view, with pulsating personal battles between Longford county players on both sides.

Inevitably though, the game's most prominent players were men who have never played for the county team.

Skill levels are not the highest in most county finals but the intensity of the rivalry, especially between neighbouring parishes such as these two, always ensures a great occasion. For Killoe, who possess a very young set of players, and their manager Tommy McCormack this really was one to savour.

Friday night idea needs work

The proposal from Leinster Council chairman Martin Skelly to play a Leinster Senior Football Championship game next June on a Friday night may well seem like a case of moving with the times.

But like all innovations it could well open the door to plenty of trouble.

A Friday night game even for teams from neighbouring counties -- like the suggested meeting of Kildare and Offaly -- will involve players having to get time off work to prepare for such an important contest.

For those working outside their own county it could mean taking a full day off work to travel and play in a game.

It is not reasonable to expect players to miss a day's pay in the current economic morass and few county boards will be able to recompense them either.

The Gaelic Players Association (GPA) have already expressed concerns about this new initiative.

It could well mean that staging such night-time games will be the launch pad for the GPA to eventually move towards a system of recompense for players who have to take time off work.

Watch this space!

Irish Independent

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