THE STORY of the GAA is rooted in the appeal of its games and in the strength of the local allegiances fostered by the way of its promotion and presentation.
The GAA is the focal point for entire communities and this was never more evident than over the bank holiday weekend as clubs and players spent hours enthralling supporters from throughout the county as the hurling championship in its various grades hit the knockout stages.
Obviously, the games brought talking points, such as the disputed frees and line balls, and the goal that was not allowed, with a hurl bag stationed beside a post coming in the way of an umpire’s decision.
All of these are at the heart of our games and help spread the controversy.
But it was the manner in which the St. Martin’s and St. Anne’s Senior hurling championship quarter-final was brought to its conclusion that became the weekend’s main focal point.
Penalties are judged as a cruel way to decide a club championship game. Penalty shoot-outs have been confined to other sports, but one never thought it would be a reality the GAA would have to face.
The concept of a winner on the day, by whatever means, has brought a strong reaction now that it has been seen in reality over the past two years.
This may be a necessity to conclude a championship tie, in order to continue its blitz-style format, but it’s not something on which the GAA was founded, since it’s the ordinary club player who is at the heart of the Association.
This presented a real challenge for players of both St. Martin’s and St. Anne’s. Level after 60 minutes, and still deadlocked after 20 minutes, after a game played in the most atrocious conditions, one felt from what was witnessed that the players could hardly summon up the energy to produce a worthwhile shoot-out.
The standard of penalty taking, as a result, was abysmal, with St. Martin’s winning the shoot-out 2-1, following five penalties each.
While the game may have brought high drama with the closeness of the scoring and the dramatic end, it was an awful way to end a game, given that these were players coming off five successive weekends of stiff championship action.
It was the hot topic following the game and to me it’s a disgraceful way to end a championship match.
There was a great deal of sympathy on show for both sets of players, with the St. Martin’s crew clearly showing little emotion having attained a semi-final spot.
Meanwhile, St. Anne’s were left to reflect back on so many difficult weeks, and rue the fact that this was how it panned out, being denied a replay.
Few, if any, want to see a major hurling game decided in such a cruel manner. The players have been presented with a blitz-style championship.
The ordinary club player was left in wait for some ten months without a meaningful game, and within the space of six weeks he once again waves goodbye to his hurl for another year, being confined to the car boot or the garage in the back garden.
Wexford GAA may boast they are now at the semi-final stage of their respective hurling championships, but at what cost? In the majority of counties their championship is just under way.
One can recall late last year the quandary the Wexford champions found themselves in, having to wait some ten weeks for their opening provincial championship game.
Rapparees lost to the Laois champions, Clough-Ballacolla, who in turn were destroyed in the provincial final by Ballyhale Shamrocks. Rapparees manager Declan Ruth was left to bemoan the lengthy wait, and rightly so.
Surely the championship is all about promotion of both hurling and football.
Take the lone footballer, who is still sitting idly by waiting for his first championship game which should eventually arrive at the end of this month.
The overwhelming feeling is that the Wexford championship format needs revisiting.
Clubs have much to consider, like a return to two weeks of hurling, and two weeks of football, along with a drawn game having a replay, with the replay going to extra-time if necessary.