Tuesday 12 November 2019

Fixture-makers should choose their battles with care

Today's league encounters will suffer from a lack of outside-the-box thinking, writes Colm O'Rourke

First to the good-news story. The GAA in its infinite wisdom fixed the second replay of the All-Ireland junior club championship semi-final between Castleknock of Dublin and Kerry's Kenmare for Croke Park yesterday evening.

It was a fitting reward for two teams who have given marvellous entertainment and in the normal course of events only one would progress to the final and get the chance to play at headquarters. Now both got that honour, while the winners get two games in the place where every player wants to step out at least once. When these players are old and carry the scars of many battles, they will still beam with pride when they remember these occasions.

This pitch, for any player from the smallest junior club to the All-Ireland senior final at county level, is the end of the rainbow. So well done to the GAA.

Pity there wasn't a bit of cop on shown when deciding on today's matches in the Allianz League. It appears to have slipped someone's attention that the biggest rugby match of the year is on in Dublin this afternoon at 3.0. Quite why the GAA feels the need to take on this game is beyond comprehension. The net result is that there will be small crowds at the league games fixed for 2.0 and, at a time when many county board finances are running on empty, it is silly to take on such an event.

It is not as if the rugby match was fixed last week. The GAA should always have an eye on what is happening in the wider world before putting days and times beside their matches. Take the Kerry-Dublin match which is live on TV. How many Kerry people will just sit at home, throw on the kettle and watch it while switching over and back to the rugby game? This match should have been played last night. The hotels in Killarney should have had a promotional drive to get the Dublin supporters to travel with special rates at a quiet time and there would have been a bit of atmosphere around the town.

But the afternoon slot is followed slavishly and far fewer Dublin supporters will travel as a result. At the best of times a Sunday game in Killarney is a poor option for teams who have to travel a distance. Maybe Jim Gavin might not like the idea of letting the players off the leash in Kerry in case they were kidnapped by some of the local girls, but there would also be the chance that there might be a few smuggled back to Dublin, so it is not just a one-way street.

In the case of other games, why did the GAA not try a midday or 1.0 start? It certainly wouldn't mean fewer supporters and it might mean a whole lot more. Of course there are those who would view such developments as a sign of weakness and who feel that all opposition must be met head on. One of the greatest lessons that a teacher learns, especially when it comes to dealing with young men, is that there are battles you can win and there are ones you should never take on. And if you don't figure out the difference fairly quickly, then you won't survive long.

The GAA is a small fish in a big sporting ocean and those in charge must be flexible in every way. Instead there are many who feel that the organisation can plough through any obstacle. In this case a bit of discretion was needed and it is just as well that many matches are now being played under lights on Saturdays or the financial hit would be greater. Sunday afternoon is not a good time for a lot of matches anymore at either club or county level so Friday or Saturday nights should be used whenever possible during the league.

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Meanwhile, the games themselves started off in rude health last weekend and after a few years the divisions have balanced out very well. There will be intense struggles in each group. It is a strange competition in the sense that the first few matches assume

more significance than the ones later in the year which is the opposite of most leagues in other sports.

There are few easy matches anymore. Division One has certainly all the best teams now and it would be hard to see the All-Ireland champions coming from any other group.

There was a time long, long ago when I was playing and Meath were quite happy to be in the second division where new players could find their feet without the intensity of the first tier. But having been in Clones last week it looks as if Division Three will be distinctly competitive and a player who is not willing to compete physically, would be better off with their feet up watching Ireland trying to derail the English chariot.

Aughrim against Wicklow today is another day out and sometimes teams can develop a bit of steel from days on the road. Supporters need a bit of it too on days like these in early spring while fixture-makers could do with less steel and a more pliable attitude, in their own interest.

Irish Independent

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