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January doing its best to highlight fixture folly

A view of the frozen pitch at St Tiernach’s Park which caused Monaghan’s game against Donegal to be called off. Photo by Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
A view of the frozen pitch at St Tiernach’s Park which caused Monaghan’s game against Donegal to be called off. Photo by Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Martin McHugh wasn't in Clones yesterday to watch his native Donegal play Monaghan in the Dr McKenna Cup.

Instead, he was in a warm RTE studio, which was just as well for him, since the game was postponed due to frost seven minutes after it was due to start. He later told the nation that all pre-season competitions should be scrapped.

Referee Noel Mooney made the call in Clones after the Donegal and Monaghan teams had warmed up, having earlier decided to delay throw-in time by 30 minutes.

'Warmed-up' may be an exaggeration as it was still extremely cold. So bitter, in fact, that St Tiernach's Park was deemed unplayable despite the bright sun making a gallant attempt to undo the impact of the severe icy blast that settled over the north and west on Saturday night.

One corner of the pitch, which had got no sunlight, was rock hard, while the rest of the surface was borderline playable.

Fashion

There were suggestions among the attendance that since two-man full-forward lines are very much in fashion these days, the frozen area could be dolled off and not used. The referee would never go with that but they had a point.

Mooney was right to opt for the cautious approach, since player safety is a referee's first responsibility.

The temperature in my car showed two degrees when I arrived in Clones just before 1pm and since Saturday night's frost had been so severe, it was always unlikely that the ground would be playable.

A sizeable crowd were in the stand when the announcement finally came at 2.07 that the game would not go ahead, followed by advice to keep their admission tickets, which they could use for the re-fixture.

The same applied in Castlebar following the late postponement of the Mayo-Galway FBD Connacht League game.

The GAA are extremely lucky to have such loyal, uncomplaining fans, with those who brave the bitterness of an early January Sunday leading the dedication league. They are the ones who should be cherished by the powers-that-be but, if they are, it doesn't extend to financial matters.

I don't know how Galway and Mayo supporters reacted in MacHale Park but there was no obvious discontent in Clones when they were told that re-admission rather than a refund was on offer.

However, the lack of public protest doesn't make it right that they got no refund for a game that wasn't played.

What of those who can't attend the re-fixture? They will have paid for a game they didn't see, which is unfair.

How difficult can it be to refund patrons? If they have an admission ticket, it should be very easy to hand back their money, but that never seems to the policy anywhere.

The Monaghan squad made a quick getaway - apparently heading for an indoor training session - while Donegal remained on the pitch to get in some work.

After travelling for a game they always knew was in doubt, they didn't want the day to be a complete waste.

"It's frustrating but what can you do? It was minus five or six in Donegal this morning so we knew the game was in doubt.

"It's not what you want but player safety has to come first. There's a long year ahead," said Donegal manager Declan Bonner.

Last Wednesday night, players in Ulster, Connacht and Leinster were forced to play in high winds, accompanied by driving rain, and four days later several games had to be called off due to frozen pitches.

But then that's what happens when such a busy programmed is packed into early January.

Ulster already face a backlog after three games were called off yesterday, effectively turning the McKenna Cup into an inconvenience for some counties.

McHugh suggested on RTE that pre-season competitions should be abandoned, especially now that the Allianz Leagues are starting earlier than ever.

And why the earlier launch? So that April can be declared an inter-county free zone when, in theory, the club fields will ring to the sound of high-octane action.

We will believe that when we see it. In the meantime, the pre-season action gets underway in late December, bounds into early January complete with wind, rain, ice and supporters who pay to see games that, in some cases, aren't even played.

Okay, so the GAA cannot legislate for the weather but since January usually delivers the harshest conditions, they can't be surprised when it hits hard as it has over the past week.

"We just have to make the best of it," said a frustrated Bonner.

True, but they shouldn't have to.

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