Saturday 21 September 2019

Colm O'Rourke: 'Cross-county leagues could transform barren club spell'

There is no contradiction in saying Stephen Cluxton has been one of the most influential players ever in Gaelic football but agreeing that Rory Beggan was the best goalkeeper this year. Photo: Ramsey Cardy
There is no contradiction in saying Stephen Cluxton has been one of the most influential players ever in Gaelic football but agreeing that Rory Beggan was the best goalkeeper this year. Photo: Ramsey Cardy
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

A man can't take a week off without a bit of controversy . . . and I thought nobody cared too much about the All Stars any more.

Maybe we all just need something to discuss at this time of year because for most clubs, the year is long over. The compressing of championships into a shorter time-frame means most club championships are finished earlier. The natural result of this is that only a few clubs in each county have any games after September.

So the clubs sit and wait until February. In the meantime, players become more unfit and it will be several months into the new year before fitness and skill levels improve again. It is hard to build momentum, loyalty and ambition when you go almost six months without a competitive match. As a result, the quality of matches will suffer badly.

The answer is to provide some type of competition for clubs that are knocked out of their championship early. Most county boards will frown on this as they strive to tidy up their fixtures at this time of year. Yet there has to be a way of having cross-county leagues to be played in September, October and early November for clubs not otherwise engaged.

There would also be a novelty factor in playing teams from other counties. Even something as simple as four-team groups, where every team gets three matches and then have some type of knock-out games at the end.

There are many who do not think this is workable on the basis that clubs shut up shop after they are beaten in the championship and are not interested in playing again until spring. This is nonsense. Young men are keen on playing games at all times of the year, they might not be too keen on training, but something is needed to keep clubs involved in what they are supposed to be at - playing football.

Teams involved in subsidiary competitions within their counties can be left out of these end-of-season matches and it could be on a voluntary basis. A club does not have to participate, but there was great weather this year in September and October while most players were sitting on their hands or playing soccer or rugby.

Many others now take to the gym and try to build a body like Charles Atlas. They would be much better off outside than looking in gym mirrors and being tempted to take supplements which might not be healthy and may even be downright unsafe.

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The provincial councils could have a role in organising such competitions. Any club that is out of their championship by early September, which is the vast majority, should be encouraged to enter. There may be a bit of travel as some games will be outside the county and matches could be played under lights or on Sunday mornings. Yet no matter what the obstacles there should be some pilot projects run so as to give adult players more games.

Some county board officials tell me that players are not interested in matches at this time of year. I do not believe that and hope to soon see an end-of-season competition in this part of the country which could involve senior teams from Meath, Louth, Cavan and Monaghan in a group. The intermediate and junior ranks could have similar competitions.

As always in life, there are a thousand good reasons for not doing anything. It has been tried successfully at underage so it is not a case of a new invention.

Anyway, back to the All Stars. My own lack of concern is based on a few things. I didn't get one because there was a time when if you were sent off you were not considered. So on the whim of a referee I was disqualified. Since then I have seen quite a few daft selections which have damaged the credibility of the scheme and, for a finish, I have heard so many players over the last 40 years who have put the value of an All Star as being just short of an All-Ireland medal.

If you ever hear a player saying something like this then you realise he has a serious problem with perspective. Individual awards are no more than a nice bonus. If you are a player on a junior club team and your side win the championship, then that is a million times more important than an All Star.

If one of your star players gets an All Star and proclaims it more prestigious than a championship medal, of any sort, then you need to take him aside and have a friendly conversation about the facts of life. There are not too many of that type around, thankfully, but ego is a dangerous thing.

The big debate around this time seems to focus on Stephen Cluxton not getting one. I did not lose any sleep over it or get exercised in any way. Since I started playing and watching football, the man who has brought the biggest transformation to any one position has been Cluxton. He spawned a generation of lookalikes. Yet there is still no contradiction in saying that, while agreeing with Rory Beggan as the best goalkeeper this year.

Beggan has copied Cluxton and his performance in Clones against Kerry was one of the best of the year by any player. There are plenty of examples in history and in fables of the student learning from the master and eventually getting even better. That might be pushing it a bit far in this case, but Beggan's selection was not the worst decision ever and of course it is the only position where only one choice could be made.

It would be just as credible putting Cluxton corner-back as placing Colm Cavanagh at full-back. That makes the selection a laugh. Why not pick either of the Wylie brothers - who had to really mark their men and did it superbly - rather than someone who did not have to mark anyone. If Cavanagh was not selected at midfield then he should not have been selected at all.

And who was the better player for Galway this year, Shane Walsh or Ian Burke? Burke was a star for Corofin but Galway would not have been in the Super 8 without Walsh.

Finally, I also thought that Brian Howard should have been Young Footballer of the Year. He was outstanding when it really mattered for Dublin. That is how you must judge all players. David Clifford made crucial interventions in big games, yet Howard was consistently outstanding.

Both will find things much more difficult next year and Clifford, for all his talent, does not have the same back-up as Howard. Dublin, while they have the best individuals, play more as team than anyone else. So it is easier for a young player to come into their side.

Then there was Footballer of the Year. Brian Fenton or Ciaran Kilkenny? Opinions, opinions and more divided opinions.

Away from all this glitz and glamour, I am far more interested in clubs having games on Sunday mornings in the autumn. A couple of months off is enough for any young man, or else their thoughts might turn to wine, women and song. Perish the thought.

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