Frozen pitches prove spoilsport
THE return of Gaelic games to the sporting weekend was put on hold at a host of venues across the country as the freezing conditions played havoc with the schedule.
All six Dr McKenna cup games fixed for Saturday night and yesterday afternoon were called off, while matches in the O'Byrne Cup and the FBD League also fell foul of the conditions. Only the the McGrath Cup programme in Munster remained unaffected.
Dublin's showdown with Westmeath and Roscommon's clash with GMIT were called off at the 11th hour following inspections by match referees.
Meath's date with UCD was also called off and refixed for tomorrow night in Navan with throw-in at 7.30.
Other matches affected by the weather included Offaly's clash with DCU and Mayo's trip to Leitrim, with dates for new fixtures expected to be announced soon.
A final decision on the Dublin versus Westmeath match was made just 35 minutes before the scheduled 2.0 throw-in when Longford referee Fergal Kelly had discussions with the two managers, Pat Gilroy of Dublin and Pat Flanagan of Westmeath, and the respective county chairmen.
When they emerged from the dressing-room area, they confirmed that the match would not go ahead. In truth, it ought to have been called off early in the day. Markings were not visible and the risk of injury to players was high on the frost-crusted surface.
And with the car park and clubhouse dangerously slippery, on spectator health and safety grounds the game looked a non-runner from the start. But why did it take so long to make a decision?
Essentially, it was a case of over-optimism regarding the weather forecast and an excess of enthusiasm to get the year's football under way.
Local club officials and Westmeath county committee members checked the pitch around 9.30 yesterday.
The forecast was for temperatures to rise to around six degrees through the day and they felt there would be a big enough thaw to allow the match to go ahead. Their intentions were good, but ultimately it was a wrong decision as there was little, if any, improvement during the morning.
Dublin fans who took the train were doubly inconvenienced as the change of venue from Cusack Park in the centre of town to St Loman's grounds on the outskirts caught them out.
A number of early arrivals had trekked out the mile and a half on slippery paths to get to St Loman's complex, and then waited almost 90 minutes before they were told the game was off.
Dublin manager Gilroy and his players arrived shortly before 1.0. They had received a message shortly before departure that the pitch was to be checked around that time.
"These things happen. What can you do? It's disappointing for us but I'm more disappointed for the travelling supporters," said Gilroy.
Westmeath manager Flanagan said: "What I was made aware of was that it had been looked at yesterday and people thought it would have thawed out sufficiently for the game to go ahead.
"I was very worried last night about the level of frost, and that was always going to make it much more difficult.
"When I got out of the car and looked at it I was amazed at the idea that it was even thought of going ahead, and that was before I walked on the pitch.
"It's not that it's terribly rock solid underneath, but there are no markings on the line. There is a fear that on a pitch like that two guys could slide in on each other. It's very easy to break a leg or do damage to bones on a pitch like that.From a safety point of view, I think postponing it was the right decision to make."