Six months without inter-county action is pure waste of promotional gold
When would you like to see David Clifford and Shane Walsh playing football again? Tomorrow too soon? Maybe next weekend?
Don’t be greedy now. They need some time off to unwind after their amazing performances in the All-Ireland final, so let them have a few weeks to themselves.
Can we see them then? Of course, but only if you’re in Kerry or Galway, where they will be the main men for their clubs. It won’t always be pleasant though.
Rivals will target them, tactically and physically. They will have at least two opposition sentries, with less than pure intentions, lurking close at all times. And there will be sneaky interventions from other parties, who just happen to be passing.
Such is the life of ultra-talented players on the club circuit. Still, with class comes responsibility and Clifford and Walsh will do all they can to bring success to their clubs.
As for county, that’s it for now. No more Clifford or Walsh, Gearóid Hegarty or TJ Reid for the rest of the year.
We have had the feasts – now comes the famine. In fact, we were overfed for months, gorging in so much fine fare that it’s going to be some shock to the system to find the kitchen closed.
And so it will remain for over six months until the start of the Allianz League on the last weekend in January 2023. The hurling closedown is even longer as the All-Ireland final was 10 days ago and it’s usually the first week in February before the league starts.
Question the long closed season and you’re told to ‘think of the clubs’. Their players need a proper schedule and games played on a regular basis with county stars available, so squeezing the inter-county season was identified as the best solution. Actually, it was more of an easy option.
Covid forced major change in 2020 and suddenly the split-season idea became fashionable. Having got another run last year, its supporters in the corridors of power saw the opportunity to take it a step further.
And so, for the first time, the championships were completed by July 24.
Uniquely among team sports anywhere in the world, the GAA has decided that the elite showpiece competitions, the ones that electrify the public imagination, should be run off quickly, after which the county game goes into hibernation for half a year.
The promotional gold generated by the championships is greatly diminished by comparison with when the All-Ireland finals were played in August or September.
Yes, some contraction of the season was required, but this isn’t a mere tightening, it’s strangulation.
President Larry McCarthy obviously thinks it’s a great idea. He even used his message in the football final programme to take a swipe at those who question the new schedules.
“We are only at the mid-point of the first year of this initiative and already some of the ‘critics collective’ have decided it doesn’t suit them.”
I can’t speak for others but I haven’t questioned the squeezing of the inter-county season because it doesn’t suit me.
My argument is that the early completion of the championships is madness from a promotional viewpoint. But then, maybe that’s not seen as important anymore. If so, the GAA are unique in world sport in not trying to maximise the elite part of their games as a major selling point.
McCarthy didn’t address the promotional deficit in his address, instead pointing out that the recalibrated season ‘has put the clubs in their most prominent position in generations’.
At what cost? More importantly, was it necessary? Had every other avenue been explored? Are we to believe that the only solution to the club fixture problem was to blame it all on the inter-county game?
Was it not within the GAA’s imaginative powers to devise a calendar that didn’t demand that the All-Ireland finals be completed by the third week in July? Curbing the power of team managers, so that county players were more available to clubs, rather than locked tightly in the county bubble, would have been a helpful start.
McCarthy wrote that the “culture and mindset changes required at club and county level mean it will, in reality, take a number of years before the county/club season beds in and be properly evaluated”.
It’s a making a slow start. Several counties have yet to begin their county senior championships and, in some cases, the launch date is as late as September.
The league has become collateral damage in the scramble for a July finish to the season.
The early start to the championship (mid-April) means counties will adopt a different approach to the league. And that will become more pronounced next season as counties note how this year’s hurling finalists, Waterford and Cork, misfired in the championship.
John Kiely has expressed concerns over the impact on the league and also questioned the condensed nature of the entire season.
He is right. If taking inter-county off the menu for six months is regarded as a solution then the fixtures issue is being looked at from a skewed angle.
Jack O’Connor praised David Clifford for, among many other great feats, pointing a crucial free from the right wing late in Sunday’s final. The Kerry manager spoke of how the swirling wind and a tight angle made it a very difficult kick.
He’s right, but then it should have been ever more difficult as Clifford improved the angle in his run-up. He was told to bring the ball closer to the sideline, which he did, but still gained ground on the run-up. Shane Walsh and Seán O’Shea did the same on other occasions, and why wouldn’t they?
Kickers lining up scoreable frees improve the angle by varying amounts that can be as much as five metres, yet it usually goes unchallenged by referees. It’s as if they have been told not to worry about such trivial matters.
Of course, they’re not trivial, since an improved angle can be the winning or losing of a game. Isn’t it time that refs were given spray foam to show precisely where the kick must be taken from?
When two outrageously talented players perform pretty close to the maximum in an All-Ireland final, it’s very much a 50-50 call as to who gets the man-of-the-match award.
The Irish Independent opted for Shane Walsh on Sunday but from the moment the final whistle sounded, everybody knew that David Clifford would get the honour on The Sunday Game. Kerry’s win ensured that.
It has long been standard practice – if not even policy – for The Sunday Game to opt for the best player from the winning side as man of the match, irrespective of even the strongest claims from the losing camp.
Announcing the winner ‘live’, and following up with an interview makes good television but that shouldn’t be the criteria for reaching the decision.
The award should not be there purely as a boost for the programme, but since that appears to be very much the case, RTÉ should rename it ‘winners’ man of the match’.