Sinead Kissane: GAA shooting themselves in the foot with no inter-county games throughout month of April
Removing all top-level games is leaving a vacuum for competitor sports to thrive in
We need to talk about April. Not any old April. This April. In years to come GAA historians will swipe through the records, click into April 2018, see the asterisk and the blanks for inter-county fixtures and results.
They will read the postscript which will say that just because April was ring-fenced for club activity only doesn't mean it was filled with club activity. But we don't need hindsight to hammer home the confusion that if April was deemed the answer to the GAA fixture crisis then what was the question?
April is a fickle and unpredictable month for sport. We come into it having felt the first flush of the year: Six Nations, Cheltenham, The Masters. But there's no stability about April because it's knockout time in the major European competitions and its offerings are very much dependent on how teams performed earlier in the season.
This year Munster and Leinster had their quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Champions Cup over the past month. Liverpool wooed us in the Champions League quarter-finals and semi-final.
Imagine if those teams hadn't reached the knockout stage? When it comes to the major sports with broad appeal, what kind of April would we have been left with without Munster, Leinster, Liverpool or Davy Russell and Willie Mullins?
Which is why April was always the perfect month for the GAA to stage the national hurling and football league semi-finals and finals in order to grab the attention of the public at an opportune time in the sports calendar and use it as the perfect aperitif for the championship.
These games aren't really about the outcome but about the promise of what could come. Just like the first time you smell freshly-cut grass after a long and dour winter, league games in April were about the summer, hope and the delusion that things could be different this time. And the comforting discovery of a stretch in the evenings when you went to Croke Park, Semple Stadium, wherever, left you with the feeling that the championship and summer were within reach. They created an excitement that league finals mired in March just can't match.
But guess what competitor must have be delighted with the GAA's decision to clear April of all inter-county games? Yep, the rugby. They must have been laughing all the way to the newspaper clippings board. Look at Munster and Leinster - they've cleaned up over the past month with the amount of newspaper space, air-time, online clicks, social media trends that have been given over to them. The GAA must have made the jobs of the Munster and Leinster advertising and marketing departments a hell of a lot easier with no national GAA finals clashing with their interests. How generous of the GAA, really, that despite the ever-increasing competition posed by rugby for the interest and attention of kids that they stepped back and gave over an entire month for other national sports to shine, dominate and take all the attention.
It's easy to romanticise something when it's gone and the league doesn't exactly lend itself to nostalgia but it's managed to do that this month. April has felt like a weird purgatory, like a no-man's land, like a throwback to another era with training-camp bans, use of beloved words like "contravention of rules", threats of financial penalties and whispers of lawless behaviour like warm-weather training.
Because it's come straight after the league and straight before the championship, 'club-only' April has come off as some sort of prohibition time when we've been denied something honourable, where inter-county teams must get permission to play challenge matches even though their championship opener is only weeks away.
And even if they get a pardon to play, challenge games in April now come with strict terms and conditions - they are only allowed to be played at certain times of the week but only if the cock crowed three times that morning and if the wind is blowing from the north-west and under no circumstances are players to look like they're enjoying playing with their county in April for fear of causing almighty offence.
But, seriously, this April has been strange without inter-county games. I've missed them. But it's almost sacrilege to say that because God forbid you say anything which isn't 100 per cent behind the club game irrespective of whether you agree with it or not. For me, having lived away from Kerry for years, my affinity has become more with the county team. So my view will probably be looked down on as an example of everything that's wrong with the GAA.
Where's my empathy for the club? How dare I say I miss inter-county when the club game has been struggling for years? Isn't April the perfect time for us all to step back and focus on the club, it's not all about competition with other sports, its not all about the inter-county game, it's not all about you…
The beauty of the club game is that it is local. It will not grab the attention on a national level the way the inter-county game does which is why the GAA shot themselves in the foot by trying to reposition April as club-only because of the vacuum it's created with no inter-county games.
It would be a different story if all counties used April for their clubs but that simply hasn't been the case. As reported earlier this month, less than half of counties had scheduled a round of club championship matches for this month. It's reported that the Wexford hurlers and the Armagh footballers went against the rules by going on training camps abroad but it's short-sighted not to expect that to happen.
While it's worked for some counties, the chairman of the Mayo County Board Mike Connelly has called on Croke Park to "revisit" the decision to make April a club-only month as "it's just not working".
Just because this hasn't worked doesn't mean all else will fail. Just because we don't agree with April being dedicated to the club doesn't mean we don't want to see solutions. The defining characteristic of April became less about club-only and more about no-inter-county month.
When it comes to the important question of how to help the club game, April is not the answer.
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