As Kerry’s conquering heroes slip back to their scenic enclaves, club action now takes centre stage on our local airwaves. Over the Covid years, the buzz around the inter-county game faded somewhat, but once the terraces filled again this summer many became blinkered by Sam and Liam’s seductive powers.
Flip-flopping arguments between club and county are becoming as tiresome as they are predictable. Like many polarising debates, the answer is always somewhere in the middle.
My own opinion is that the current inter-county season is at a minimum two weeks too short. The optics of having our finals in August as opposed to being shoehorned into the July holiday season would be significant.
We don’t need September back, just a few weeks after the traditional builders’ holidays would suffice for everyone. Club players and their families like to go on a holiday too, which is 98pc of our playing population, as if you haven’t been reminded enough.
You can shorten the inter-county season all you like, and the club championship in most counties still won’t kick off until August. As an example, the Monaghan championships kicked off this weekend, having exited the All-Ireland race on June 6. With October becoming increasingly warmer and drier than the spring, club players are far from being short-changed by playing into Halloween.
A less than obvious consequence of the shortened season will be the chronic underuse of our state-of-the-art county GAA facilities. Since Monaghan exited the championship, I’ve driven through the gates of our centre of excellence every Saturday morning for U-15 development squad training thinking the same thing. This is not right.
A newly purchased robotic mower has the pitches in pristine condition, but have been barely used over the summer, save for a few development squad run-outs. Similar situations are likely across the country.
In February, these same pitches in Monaghan had to be closed for a few weeks as every team, across all grades and codes, bottlenecked across grass surfaces unable to recover in a cool spring climate. A farcical situation.
Throw in the empty county grounds, and that adds up to a scandalous amount of facilities lying largely idle at the exact time of the year they should be at peak activity. Championship 2023 will improve this situation, however.
Change is never easy, and we are all guilty of conflating changes to the inter-county schedule and our own narrow nostalgic calendars. The once-sacred third Sunday in September has long waved the white flag, along with the St Patrick’s Day club final.
Indeed, I remarked over this year’s premature All-Ireland final weekend, that on the same date nine years ago Monaghan celebrated our historic Ulster final win over Donegal.
It underlined the rushed feeling I had about this year’s championship. This will pass with time, as we get used to this new GAA normal.
Much is being made of the lost promotional opportunity the shortened season is having on the GAA. Focusing only on what we are losing ignores the potential enjoyment and interest our club championships can bring our games at a national level.
Much of the success around the split season will depend on how well the club championships can fill the inter-county voids beyond their own local interests. With RTÉ finally stepping up their game and taking their cameras to club venues, the last few club seasons has given us a flavour that they might do ok in this regard.
Last year’s Tyrone semi-final between Dromore v Trillick and the 2020 Cavan final between Crosserlough and Kingscourt are two televised contests that spring to mind, and which gave as much on-screen entertainment than most county games.
Many commentators have recently bemoaned the fact that we won’t get to watch David Clifford in action until next spring. This ignores the likely fact that we’ll likely get to enjoy his exploits for East Kerry on our screens in September.
I will go out of my way to watch the Fossa man play in his divisional club colours as much as I’d do for Kerry. I’m sure many are the same.
If lost promotion is to rear its head, it could, however, be in the shape of falling attendances. With only days to build hype and anticipation, this year’s games blended into a congested haze of action. Will we get too comfortable nipping in and out of our Covid-built sun decks, watching game after game in our newly condensed calendar, that we won’t bother making the day trips that were once a feature of Irish summers? That this year’s All-Ireland finals barely made full capacity is surely a warning sign of things to come.
An even more condensed 2023 is likely to further push the newly formed GAA schedule to its limits. However, hard lines on the calendar shouldn’t be drawn as this new world takes shape.
We aren’t far away, and credit has to be given to all concerned for bringing us this far. The enjoyment you got from watching your club championships in the sun over the weekend certainly weakens other side of the argument.
Still, a July All-Ireland final will never feel right for me. The builders will agree.