It's a pity that all of the goodwill generated by the return to play did not last long. Faction fighting was a feature of GAA activity in the past. The fists and sticks have been replaced by more sophisticated methods but everyone still fights their corner so it only took a few days before the usual club/county conflict emerged.
For many, giving clubs a dedicated window after the lockdown was a sensible enough solution to a major crisis, but it all unravelled very quickly.
County teams were forbidden from training until September to facilitate clubs but a new rule is not worth the paper it is written on if there are no sanctions. It was put to Tom Ryan, the ard-stiúrthóir, that there were already breaches in counties and he was asked what he intended to do or words to that effect. His answer then was a major disappointment to the masses.
There were to be no sanctions imposed. If Ryan had said he was calling a meeting of the chairpersons of all county boards with a clear message that anyone not sticking by the rule would lose their home league matches next year, that would have sounded the alarm bells and changed things immediately.
Instead, Ryan took the path of least resistance and had no strong message on penalties. This was a first great chance to show his authority, but he missed the boat and it has cost him reputational damage in the process.
In the last few days, Ryan and GAA president John Horan took a very different course. The iron fist in the velvet glove emerged and with the threat of very penal sanctions deviant county boards will now come quickly to heel. If the chief executive of an organisation as diverse and difficult to manage as the GAA does not crack the whip then county boards can do what they like. Perhaps Ryan, like many others in times of crisis, has found his leadership skills and will command rather than ask in future. The GAA footsoldiers would, in general, welcome that.
Most boards were quick into action once the all-clear was given to restart, setting out a clear schedule for their clubs. The most interesting piece on this was supplied by Colm Keys in Thursday's Irish Independent, in which he set out the dates for all county finals in football and hurling. Most are either down for the last two weekends of September or the first Sunday in October. The first thing that sticks out is how so many counties can now finish their club championships in this time-frame when under such pressure and yet can't finish them in a reasonable time in a normal year.
What is not clear, of course, is how many championship matches each club is going to get in this narrow window. Some will get only one and others might get two, so unless there are a lot of league games for clubs who are out of the championship early then club players are still being messed about. A few counties have very early finals and the suspicion lingers that this is a way to clear the decks for the county team to start training whether there is insurance cover or not.
Wexford have come under the spotlight in this regard with a lot of social media comment. Their hurling final is pencilled in for August 22/23. The county board has argued that it is because they are a dual county and need the time to run the football championship. In Cork, which is a much bigger dual county, both football and hurling finals are down for October 3/4. The hurling final in Galway, another big dual county, is on September 27 with the football a week later.
What are all the county hurlers in Wexford who don't play football going to do between August 22 and September 14 when insurance cover for county teams is restored?
Caught in the crossfire in the club-county debate are a lot of managers who feel that they are all being thrown in the same boat as those who are training away.
Clare's Colm Collins represented that view very articulately last week. He is quite right too because there are many county managers who are happy to stick by the guidelines.
They are, of course, very aware too that their prospects in the championship may suffer as a result of doing a lot less training than others. Or maybe all this training may be shown to bring little improvement.
Into the fray too came the GPA. They could not let the opportunity pass without appearing even more foolish. A statement released on Wednesday was both confusing and contradictory. They wanted county boards to ensure there was no sanctioned training but if there was they wanted those sessions covered by insurance. Confusing or what? The GPA are acting like a cat on a hot tin roof.
Why could they not just say that their members needed to adhere to the GAA's guidelines and, under no circumstances, should any member go training with anyone other than their own club. End of story.
It would also be a clear benefit for players' physical and mental well-being rather than leaving them torn between club and county. Reducing demands on players is something the GPA tell us a lot about. Quite right too but this was a chance for them to do something about it. The opportunity passed in confusion.
In one sense, I have a certain sympathy for the GPA. If a county player's club is out of the championship they should be able to train with the county team. However, on the other hand, if this had been made clear at the start it may have acted as an encouragement to boards to wrap their championships up quickly in the belief that insurance cover would be reinstated before September.
Where that happens it is a poor reflection on a county board. As I suggested last week, every county should have had a night each week designated for the county team to get together. This could have solved a lot of disquiet which has blown up into full-blown anger in some places.
With club action finishing early, the question is: what is going to happen to the rest of the year? Will county boards run an autumn league or some other competitions to keep the ordinary club players ticking over? The first few weeks seem to indicate that the vast majority of players are back and mad for action. Pitches have never been in better condition so counties should be trying to keep club players busy up to November.
If counties renege on their responsibilities in this regard then clubs should not complain but take the bull by the horns and organise their own tournaments. Some of my most enjoyable memories are playing in tournaments where clubs from different counties were involved. Prizes were often very attractive. There were gold watch tournaments in various places. We often poked fun at those clubs by asking them if any of the watches worked.
Drumconrath in North Meath had a gold watch tournament with clubs from Monaghan, Cavan, Meath and Louth. Every player wanted to be part of the squad for these sort of tournaments, even more so than a championship game. Skryne were the winners on one occasion and my mother took a liking to my watch. It was when ladies watches were delicate and had small faces. With declining eyesight, my mother wanted a big face that was easier to read. If you pardon the pun I suppose you could say she was ahead of her time. In plenty of other ways too.
Anyway, maybe this is a chance for clubs to show initiative. The best people in life to associate with are not those who harp on about problems. It is always those who see the problems but also work out solutions. Sometimes in the GAA there are too many who complain about everything but never come up with a better way.
My motto in school is only to deal with those who see something wrong and have worked out a different way of doing things. Any fool can see when things go wrong. Perhaps clubs have a chance now to see the problems ahead and work out a structure of games which could keep their players doing what clubs are about: playing games.