Maybe I am going soft in my old age, maybe all this lockdown stuff has got to me and I am a more melancholy person.
But, for the second successive column, I’m going to praise Tyrone football. That’s surely a sign of something.
Last weekend, I watched their two football semi-finals and, having done so, I can honestly say that the Tyrone Championship has to be among the best of its type anywhere.
I saw the fruits of good, positive coaching, with an emphasis on skill, fitness, and on players getting full freedom to display the talent they have. There was not a negative notion in sight.
Contrast that to watching the Leinster v Munster PRO14 semi-final on TV ten days ago. Munster, with a highly-paid, we presume, management team of two South African coaches, an Australian backs coach and an English forwards coach, came up with a caveman game plan of ‘we’ll kick the ball up in the air and everyone will run after it’.
It was truly dreadful stuff. Yet, if there was a word of criticism of it in the media, I must have missed it. After all, ‘We are a Rugby Country’, our national team is ‘The Team of Us’, and rugby is the darling sport of the media, and the PR and ‘morketing’ industries.
Sorry lads, last Friday week’s rugby match, on an entertainment scale, was nothing less than utter shite, an absolute dog’s dinner of a contest produced by highly-paid professional players. Compared to the skill and endeavour of the club GAA fare I saw last week, it wasn’t at the races.
All in all, the GAA club championships have been a massive success this year. The clubs have got a fixed window for training and playing their big games. The county players are back with them, and not under sufferance either.
But I will say that I’ve been worried in recent times about reports that a handful of inter-county sides are now back training. That’s against the rules. And that their respective county boards have turned a blind eye. Not good enough, lads.
Most importantly, the club matches have been very competitive – and here’s the lesson that the county scene must take.
All across the island, the club championships are seeded according to ability, so you have junior, intermediate and senior grades that produce even contests.
It is in marked contrast to the inter-county structure, where there are far too many predictable results at the end of turkey shoots of matches, because everyone, regardless of ability, is in the same competition.
There is now a proposal for the Tailteann Cup on the table, a competition for teams who just won’t ever win the All-Ireland.
I’d go further and introduce a third tier – because there are three distinct levels of abilities among inter-county teams at the moment, and a big gap between each grade.
Having worried about the media coverage of a very poor rugby game, I worry about the media coverage of this GAA story, too.
I sense that too much of it is inspired by vested interests, principally the GPA and CPA. Good luck to those bodies for fighting the corner of their members, but what they want may not be right for the national association as a whole.
I say that now, in the middle of a world pandemic, is not the time to be making far-reaching changes to our competitions. I say ‘let the hare sit’.
Let’s take a good winter to think about this and when everyone is happy that we’ve got it right, let’s vote on things next year and bring in the changes for the 2022 season.
By the way, while I’m being positive about Tyrone football, surely now it is right for the Tyrone county board to pull Mickey Harte aside and say that it is time to end your speaking ban with RTÉ.
Or, at least, if Mickey (right) doesn’t want to do interviews with the station, and as an amateur manager he does not have to, let his players talk on camera before and after matches.
Look, mistakes were made, apologies were offered, and it is time to end the ban now and move on.
Also, from watching games on the telly from many different counties, I’m struck by the number of good clubs who have managers and coaches, not just from outside their club – but outside their county, too.
Last weekend, I saw a man coaching a club football team on a Saturday night – and there he was on the Sunday afternoon, back on the sideline, looking after a hurling team! The pandemic has clearly stopped the inter-county expenses juggernaut, but it hasn’t stopped it at club level.
Take it from me, there are a lot of bluffers and spoofers, and fellas who got a coaching or managing gig out of giving an impressive power-point presentation to a well-meaning club committee. And they are now taking a lot of money out of those hard-pressed clubs.
On a more positive note, isn’t is great to see the pubs opening tomorrow week, but why not go the whole hog and allow some spectators into sports events?
County finals are starting now and people from a parish should be able to see their heroes going for a title that, maybe, the club has not won since the players’ fathers, or maybe even grandfathers, were wearing the colours.
Needless to say, I am still waiting on the NPHET evidence that there has been serious outbreaks of Covid because of attendance at GAA matches.
While I’m on the subject of the coronavirus, I have to say that the Government handled the re-opening of our schools well and the issuing of the Leaving Cert results went as well as anyone could have expected in the circumstances.
But, as a sportsman and former PE teacher, I do have concerns on one issue now and that is the current availability of physical education to the young people of Ireland.
Too many PE halls have been converted into extra classrooms. I’m hearing too that many PE classes have been dropped entirely to allow teachers teach other subjects. Also, that where PE is taking place, it is very light activity to avoid heavy sweating in the current situation. To be perfectly honest, that sort of PE is useless.
I worry about all that because we have a huge, and still growing, problem with overweight and even obese kids.
A recent survey done by UCC revealed that the majority of 12-year-olds are now unable to jump, throw or catch a ball. Dear God!
Professor Niall Moyna, of DCU, said recently that the cardiovascular heart-rate of some inactive 15-year-olds is comparable to that of 55 or 60-year-olds.
Another study found that 12 per cent of all teenagers in secondary school are not meeting the Department of Health recommendation of 60 minutes daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
The point I’m making is that, as is the case in other areas, the responses to the coronavirus seem to be doing more damage than the disease.
I’ll finish off by going back to GAA. In the midst of this crazy summer, we’ve almost forgotten that three new rules are being tested – rules which, if teams took them seriously, could change the way the game of Gaelic Football is played massively.
Of the seven football matches I watched over the last two weekends, four Kerry quarter-finals and a Tyrone quarter-final and two semi-finals, these three new rules had little or no impact.
Let’s start with the defensive mark. Three of the 14 teams I saw didn’t take any defensive mark at all. Killyclogher of Tyrone were the outlier with four in a game, and the average in a match was two.
Why? Because most kick-outs are still being played short.
The advanced mark was scarce, too. One game, Legion v St Brendans in Kerry, had no advanced mark at all.
The most I saw in one hour’s football was three in Dr Crokes v Templenoe, again in Kerry.
Why is this so? Firstly, teams are not willing to change their gameplan to attempt to use the mark.
Secondly, remember it is the man who makes the mark who must take the shot at goal, and teams are not certain that their club forwards can always score them.
You don’t hand the ball after a mark to the team’s Dean Rock or Seán O’Shea, you have to kick it over the bar yourself!
Thirdly, players are finding it difficult to put their hands up in the air clearly to tell the ref that they are claiming a mark.
Finally, there’s the sin-bin, which was used once in the seven matches. Why so little? Has the black card, regardless of the punishment, stamped out cynical play in Gaelic Football?
Not on your life! We’re just not seeing the sin-bin because referees are opting out of using the black card.
They just give a yellow card and a free-kick and get on with the match.