Wednesday 16 October 2019

A complete farce as toll of two games in less than 24 hours proves too much

Leinster Club Championships: Rhode (OY) 2-16 St Patrick's 0-9

St Patrick’s captain Dean Healy rises with Rhode’s Alan McNamee during the Leinster club clash in Aughrim. Photo:Joe Byrne
St Patrick’s captain Dean Healy rises with Rhode’s Alan McNamee during the Leinster club clash in Aughrim. Photo:Joe Byrne

Brendan Lawrence at Joule Park Aughrim

Former Dublin star Alan Brogan perhaps best summed up the Leinster Club Senior Football Championship debacle last weekend that saw Wicklow champions St Patrick's taking to the field to face Rhode 18 hours and 30 minutes after defeating Rathnew in their county final replay when he tweeted: 'This is pathetic! And it goes by unnoticed with hardly a word about it'.

Dean Healy's expression when Wicklow county chairman Martin Fitzgerald wished Casey O'Brien's men all the best in Leinster just prior to handing over the Miley Cup after their sensational 0-10 to 0-8 victory over neighbours Rathnew told you all you needed to know about how this fixtures farce is viewed in Wicklow town. The St Patrick's captain threw his eyes up to heaven at the remark, no doubt shocked at the hollowness of the remark given what was being asked of them both physically and mentally.

The fact that St Patrick's would have to face the Offaly champions a day after their final replay was raised on the front page of this sport section the Wednesday after the drawn final. A slim hope that Rhode would agree to a Bank Holiday Monday clash to give the Wicklow champions an extra 24 hours was maintained until midweek, but that request was denied leaving the absurd situation of the fixture going ahead a preposterous reality at 1.30pm on Sunday afternoon.

Even the match programme booklet looked ridiculous with both the Rathnew and St Patrick's team lists included as the winner was not known at the time of going to print.

The reaction online was considerable with online news outlets highlighting the situation following St Pat's victory in the replay and with stinging criticism being directed towards the Wicklow County Board, Leinster GAA and the GAA itself.

Popular GAA entertainer Rory's Stories tweeted: 'They said they were tackling the calendar this year to help club players. Yet St Pat's (Wicklow) spent their summer playing Mickey Mouse games and played the two biggest games of their year within 24 hours of each other, days before November lands. I dunno! #GAA'.

Looking back at the fixtures plan introduced by Leinster Council at the start of the year, the Sunday, October 14 slot for the football final and the Sunday, October 21 slot for the hurling decider looks so nice and tidy.

However, disastrously, it seems that nobody considered the football ending in a draw nor the agreeing to extra-time in the event of that happening which meant that given the fact that Rathnew and St Patrick's, both with dual players involved in the hurling, ended up in the decider, there was zero room for maneuver when it came to fixing the replay.

The rule contained within the fixtures that a knockout game ending in a draw must be played within three days was made redundant given the fatc that there is no suitable venue with lights to hold a game of this magnititude within the county.

It's a terrible shame that Wicklow's club champions at Senior level were forced to return to Joule Park Aughrim a matter of hours after leaving it the previous day having clinched their first Miley Cup in six years. It's also a terrible shame that a stance of some kind wasn't taken by the county board or Leinster, that ownership wasn't taken to the extent that St Pat's would feel that they had the support of GAA officials.

CPA (Club Players Association) chairman Michéal Briody labelled the scenario 'not acceptable'.

"I'm not an expert in sports science, but you have healthy, professional soccer players who compete in a less physically demanding sport with no real contact who are at higher risk with a Saturday to Tuesday turnaround compared to a Saturday to Wednesday turnaround," he told RTÉ Radio 1's Sunday Sport.

'So, there's inadequate recovery (for St Patrick's) there which means playing with damaged muscles, decreased energy, decreased coordination, guaranteed injury. It's not acceptable in this day and age,' he added.

St Patrick's GAA Club PRO John Smith said that the situation was 'frustrating' from their point of view and that 'questions need to be asked of the powers that be, predominantly Leinster Council in respect of player welfare'.

'It's my understanding that Leinster Council came in and assisted Wicklow in putting the fixtures together and Wicklow implemented the fixtures and yet haven't made allowances for replays or they haven't advised that extra-time should be played,' he said.

'To my knowledge it was that it is what it is. Representations were made, but then Rhode, the word we got back was that Rhode refused to move it to the following Friday. And I think they were also caught because this Saturday Glenealy would be out in the Leinster hurling so if Rathnew had got through they would be caught as well,' he added.

'It was frustrating too, when you think about it, whether it was Leinster or Wicklow, that they facilitated five or six lads, in respect of the replay over the hurling, to inconvenience the 26 of whichever panel on Saturday.

'If it was Pat's or Rathnew who had won on Saturday, they facilitated the six players the previous week by not playing it (the replay) on the Saturday, or the Friday evening, so that Glenealy could go ahead with their county final. It meant that 26 players on Saturday knew that they would be out the following day.

'Personally, I thought it should have been played the following Saturday, or Friday (before the hurling final),' he said.

John Smith says that the feeling of frustration is made all the worse from the fact that the St Pat's players feel that if they had a week to prepare for the battle with Rhode they would have been a lot closer come the final whistle in Joule Park aughrim on Sunday afternoon.

'It would have been a lot closer,' said John Smith. 'You could tell they were a little bit lethargic, the legs were heavy, but the minds were lethargic, the sharpness of the passing was lethargic. It was all those little things, there were unforced errors there on Sunday that weren't there year. There were some very basic errors on Sunday and when you have someone like (Niall) McNamee , he's going to puncih you. He was fantastic.

'Ironically enough, he was on the UCD team in 2004 with Paul Earls and Austin O'Malley, they won the Dublin championship. That was the full-forward line I'm nearly sure,' he added.

John Smith continued by saying that the powers that be weren't lenient or didn't listen to concerns from clubs when the fixtures were being rolled out at the start of the year in Ballinakill.

'They had us down to play Division 1 and Division 3 games the same weekend, sometimes the same day, and when you have lads with the county team it's very hard to facilitate it. And I think that it nearly undone us as a club because our second team folded halfway through the season because of lack of games which really put the lads under pressure later on because they didn't have the the full compliment of a second squad to build the Senior team. Now, it's something in the club that we are working on for next year, but you still need games and you need the county board to facillitate them,' he added.

In the end, in Joule Park Aughrim, after 60-odd minutes of football, it was a rampant Rhode side who progressed to meet Longford kingpins Mullinalaghta after a straightforward victory over St Pat's in Joule Park.

Led by the sublime Niall McNamee who finished with 11 points to his tally and powered by a ferocious work rate all over the field, the Offaly champions understandably had too much for Casey O'Brien's men who died with their boots on in terms of effort and heart.

Ahead by 0-10 to 0-5 at the break, a Ciaran Heavey major four minutes into the second half put the tie to bed.

Pat's would lose talisman Stephen Duffy to a black card after 42 minutes and although Tommy Kelly would lash home a late goal there was no stopping a very impressive looking Rhode side.

Rhode would win 22 frees off St Patrick's and concede just 10 and it was from the pure energy being spent by the Rhode players that drew the fouls from the Pat's men.

Rhode were ferociously hungry for the ball and relentless in the tackle as the 26 to 17 turnover stat will tell you.

However, diastrous though this Leinster club campaign may have been for Pat's, they will still look back on 2018 with nothing other than joy and satisfaction.

They won their county final and gave Rhode plenty to think about less than 24 hours later.

Fair play to them!

Scorers - Rhode: Niall McNamee 0-11 (6f, 1 45), Ciaran Heavey 1-3, Anton Sullivan 1-2, Niall Darby 0-1 (f). St Patrick's: Stephen Duffy 0-5 (5f), Thomas Kelly 1-2 (1f), Dean Healy 0-1, Patrick O'Keane 0-1.

St Patrick's: Colm Byrne; Ciaran Doyle, Shane Murley, Wayne Doyle; Aidan Dunne, Conor Ffrench, John Crowe; Dean Healy, Patrick O'Keane; Jordan Pettigrew, Patrick McWalter, Paul Earls; Stephen Duffy, Jack Dunne, Thomas Kelly. Subs: Jonathan Delahunt for J Pettigrew (HT), Paul O'Brien in for J Dunne (39), Ciaran McGettigan for S Duffy (43, BC), Hugh Humby for W Doyle (48), Ronan Muray for A Dunne (54), Bryan Doyle for P Earls (56).

Rhode: Kenny Garry; Shane Sullivan, Eoin Rigney, Jake Kavanagh; Brian Darby, Niall Darby, James McPadden; Conor McNamee, Alan McNamee; Paul McPadden, Ruairi McNamee, Pauric Sullivan; Ciaran Heavey, Anton Sullivan, Niall McNamee. Subs: Gareth McNamee for C Heavey (50), Dylan Kavanagh for C McNamee (54), Shane Lowry for P Sullivan (56), Mark Rigney for B Darby (58).

Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare)

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