Wednesday 22 January 2020

Colm O'Rourke: Good riddance to April, a barren month of fake breaks and unfairness

Don’t blame the journalists, they want to write about games, but there’s just none on. Photo: Stephen McCarthy Sportsfile
Don’t blame the journalists, they want to write about games, but there’s just none on. Photo: Stephen McCarthy Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

By wiping out inter-county activity in April, the GAA has guaranteed that the sports pages and airwaves have had wall-to-wall coverage of rugby, through Leinster and Munster, and soccer's Champions League.

At times like this it is just as well I only have to write about football on a Sunday. GAA reporters and columnists have had to invent some news to try to keep some kind of show going. An interview with a player who says something earth shattering like, "we are expecting a very hard game in the first round of the championship and we are not looking beyond that"; or after winning a game, "everyone wrote us off and it became an inspiration to the whole team".

It should be constipation for anyone reading such rubbish. People get their motivation from various sources but proving the scribes or commentators wrong must be the worst reason for performance. Players should play because of their own motivation and ambition, and outside factors should be exactly that.

I suppose carrying these sort of quotes does give a service as it reflects a certain lack of confidence which is a characteristic of the GAA: a fear of saying something which may be held against them while at the same time crying out to be taken seriously as a person for employment purposes. There is a bit of a contradiction.

Anyway, the first own goal of April was to leave the field free for other sports to take over the national media - and local media too. Perhaps it does not make much difference to somebody togging out for their junior team on a Saturday evening before giving the town a right lash, but games generate publicity, interest and inspiration for young players.

It is a moot point whether football could survive and prosper as a club game only. There is every chance that it would, as clubs who are well organised at underage level will get their young players to continue to turn out because they know they will get enjoyment out of playing.

In the meantime, it's a feast or a famine at national level. From next week there will be so much activity that the GAA media will not be able to keep up.

I can't see much point in crying about the lack of coverage given to Gaelic games when there is nothing on - even if I have written in the past about the unwillingness to sometimes give the national sports a fair crack of the whip in some sections of the media.

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In some cases there seems to be an attitude that the GAA is some type of lesser body and professional sports are more worthy of coverage. Surely it should be the opposite: that our own games deserve special attention because they continue to be amateur, community-based games which can never compete against global, professional sports.

Even some county executives are now publicly questioning the reasoning behind the April curfew. Last week the Mayo chairman said that it was not working.

Of course there is a complete unfairness built into a system where some counties are playing championship in early May while others are not out until much later, yet they are all expected to observe the same regulations in April.

In the particular case of Mayo there is obviously a dilemma as clubs want their players for league and championship matches while the Mayo team are trying to prepare for the high noon showdown with Galway in a fortnight. Meanwhile, Galway do not seem to have taken the April edict very seriously and have had no championship matches involving county players. So where is the fairness?

Any county manager who found himself in the Mayo scenario would have shouted foul. If they lose to Galway then a hard road lies ahead. It does not necessarily mean the end of the road but unlike Robert Frost, with his roads diverging in a yellow wood, Mayo are better to take the road more travelled, as this will take them on the shortest route to the big eight.

Some have taken the long road and found it a rewarding experience - Mayo last year, Tyrone and Galway before them, while the most enjoyable year for me playing football was the 10 games to get to the All-Ireland final in 1991 . . . at least until the final. More games means less training. That is the way it should be.

Yet it is hard to feel sorry for a lot of county board executives who are now seeing the folly of closing down for April. They voted for it. In fact there was a lemming-like rush to jump off the cliff when these proposals were put to them as if they were the ten commandments being handed down. All these same officials had to do was to look at the way club football was organised in their own counties and see how these new proposals would fit in to them.

Of course many did take a look at the overall picture, knew they were creating a complete, unholy mess and still voted for it. I think this phenomenon could be termed the hypnotic power of those in authority. So even if everyone knew this was a non-runner, it was still passed by these officials because it came from on high and the underlings decided that even if it looked like a camel it must be something else. Whereas if this idea came from a Joe Bloggs it would have been laughed out of court. And there is the knock-on effect at the end of the year too: there will be no serious county football for six months after August.

The All-Ireland final will be over, there will be no reason for hundreds if not thousands to come home from abroad in September and there will be a lack of GAA coverage across every media platform. Don't blame the journalists either: they want to write about the games but must fear the period from August to the following February.

It does not have to be like this, it does not have be one or the other. Club and county can coexist from February to October with a proper fixtures plan - one that all sides can be happy with. Perhaps this is part of a cunning plan by the former president and director-general; they knew it would spark the radical change needed by creating a complete mess in the short term. Hopefully this is the darkest hour before the dawn.

Longford and Cavan play today in Granard at the opening of a pitch at the Cnoc Mhuire school grounds. I don't know whether it breaks any of the April regulations but it is a good cause. Especially as Cavan are playing Donegal in a fortnight and all other counties seem to be back playing on the dreaded challenge match circuit.

Just as well next Sunday is in the merry month of May and the legitimate madness can begin. The stick the GAA made to beat themselves can be put away, and proper media coverage can begin again.

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