When it comes to testing the regulations on training for inter-county teams, the pattern remains constant: first the questionable assembly, then the inevitable ‘leak’ and finally the unconvincing explanation.
It has been going on for well over a decade, ever since the introduction of restrictions on when teams could resume training after the All-Ireland championships.
The nonsense of squads being recalled in early autumn for a season that was several months away prompted the GAA to intervene. Later return dates were set and then promptly ignored by many counties.
That problem has persisted in different guises over the years and was exacerbated by the next challenge when rules prohibiting squads from going into extended pre-championship training camps – often overseas – were broken on a regular basis.
Still, all that was mere background chatter compared to the blaring sirens set off over the last week as reports of squads getting together despite orders from Croke Park that it was not to happen.
Down and Cork found themselves under particular scrutiny, the former for assembling in Abbey CBS, Newry, the latter for a get-together on Youghal beach. Meanwhile, Mayo have suspended three of their backroom team for spiriting their way into Croke Park for the All-Ireland final, a clear violation of the agreed protocols.
How irresponsible was that? Rules? What rules? Surely not for me.
In Down’s case, police were informed and while the motivation of the caller is questionable there should have been nothing to call about in the first place.
The fact was that Down had engaged in an exercise which, while possibly being technically within the guidelines, was off-line with the mood of the time. So too with Cork.
Then came the sanctimonious claptrap. Down insisted they had "adhered to directives and will continue to do so". What about the spirit, which is just as important?
Cork described their beach work as a "team-building exercise" – manager Ronan McCarthy talked of being "hugely conscious of our responsibilities to our players, backroom team and the wider public". Stay at home then – it’s the best way to support the national response.
Others spoke last week of reports that not all counties were adhering to the training regulations. What is it with people? Do they not see this is altogether different to a sneaky little violation of training rules in ordinary times?
But then, is that where the rot started? It’s 12 years since Connacht Council secretary John Prenty talked of "every trick in the book" being used to break the winter training ban.
Bizarrely, there was no sanction for breaking the rule back then but even when that was corrected, the chicanery continued.
Remember the nonsense in 2018 when Dublin (football) and Wexford (hurling) escaped sanction for pre-championship jaunts to France and Portugal respectively.
Dublin explained it away with a haughty account of how their trip was a historical pursuit to visit war memorials and had nothing to do with football, while Wexford opted for the comical line that their hurlers went on holiday.
Both explanations were an insult to intelligence but the authorities let them away with it. Croke Park ordered that no inter-county training take place before mid-September last year, but it too was ignored in many counties. Again, no sanction.
It’s against that background that it was almost inevitable problems would arise now. Basically, some counties appear to take the view that training restrictions are not for them, irrespective of the circumstances.
The GAA at all levels did an enormous amount of good work since the start of the Covid crisis, both at local community level and in running championships which lifted the mood of the nation. It’s a pity that it has been undermined by events of the last two weeks. Sadly, it has done serious damage to the Association’s image.
Don’t be negative on five-point goal
My suggestion last week that the value of a goal be increased to five points drew quite a response, much of which contended that it would merely lead to more sweepers and fouling.
On the fouling issue, consistent use of the black card, which currently applies in football, should take care of that. It needs to apply in hurling, too.
As for sweepers, how many can a team usefully deploy? If they drop too many into defence, it’s easy for the opposition – especially in hurling – to kill them from further out.
A five-point goal might encourage negative tactical thoughts from coaches who are thus inclined, but surely there are others who would take a more adventurous approach.
How many games are lost by a hurling team that scores four goals or a football team that gets three?
Trouble is, that while it remains valued at three points, the return on the planning investment involved is not sufficiently guaranteed to make it worthwhile.
Small ball deserves better in Tyrone
There was quite a lot unseemly about the manner in which Mickey Harte was left with little option but to resign as Tyrone football manager, but once he was gone the county board moved quickly to appoint a successor.
Twelve days later, Fergal Logan and Brian Dooher were installed on a joint-ticket, allowing them to begin planning for 2021 – whatever it might bring.
Mattie Lennon departed as Tyrone hurling manager in November and no replacement has yet been appointed. It prompted understandable frustration from Damian Casey, one of their top performers.
And while he was keen not to turn it into a hurlers v footballers comparison, certainly not in a personal sense anyway, he cited differences in how they are treated. He also claimed the hurlers received much more backing from the county board some years ago.
All of which supports a long-held view that while lip service is played to hurling in many counties, enduring commitment is very hard to come by.