St Thomas’ captain, Conor Cooney, believes that the AIB All Ireland senior club finals should continue to be played on St Patrick’s Day.
Given that the GAA calendar is so tightly packed this time of year, there were calls to move the finals back in order to give them more prominence.
Last month, Corofin’s Kieran Fitzgerald suggested that the club finals be played prior to Christmas, thus eliminating the two-month break that players have to navigate through following the provincial finals.
The issue is back in the spotlight this week as the recent postponement of games in the Allianz Hurling League has resulted in 20 games being scheduled for this Saturday, March 16 while the club finals stand alone the following day. Many believe that other prominent fixtures should be scheduled for St Patrick’s Day on such a busy weekend.
However, Cooney believes that the finals deserve prominence and that playing them in the depths of winter would be “counterproductive”.
“You’re talking about guys who’ve never got an opportunity to play in Croke Park or wherever it might be; you’re asking them to play in the depths of winter rather than maybe a spring day which probably isn’t fair because it might be a once in a lifetime thing for some guys.
“Hurling is a summer sport. If you’re getting things played off for the sake of it, it’s counterproductive.
“It is difficult to decide what is the best thing. I suppose you’d lose out on some of the prestige of it being on Paddy’s Day, a Bank Holiday weekend and all that goes with it. There’s hype around it, the weather is improving, people are coming out a bit more where, if it was played in the depths of winter in the snow and wind or rain, you’re taking away from the club game a small bit – it’s under pressure as it is.”
The issue of the All Ireland club final was not the only fixture debacle to hit Galway in recent times as the 2018 U21 hurling championship only concluded earlier this month. St Thomas’ were one of the clubs affected by the overrun calendar and Cooney admits that player welfare was an issue.
“It was a bit up in the air. There was a stage there that we had some U21s playing a county semi-final or quarter-final the previous year where we were going out playing Cushendall not long after. It was a bit of a debacle.
“Lookit, we got over it, we’ve got no injuries from it or anything like that.
“It’s difficult to get competitions played off. You’ve weather playing a part and different competitions running. It is difficult. Player welfare is the thing which comes to mind first and foremost. Lads are trying to prepare for one of the biggest matches they’ve played and they have to go out and play other matches.
“It’s a difficult ask for the players.”
St Thomas’ are currently preparing for their second ever All Ireland final having claimed the Tommy Moore Cup into 2013. Their squad has undergone a transformation since that win six years ago but the excitement and buzz in the surrounding areas is as prominent as it was back then.
Cooney insists that the team are remaining focused in order to bring further joy to their supporters come the final whistle on Sunday.
“There’s hype around the place and its nice to see people getting excited about it again.
“You’re bringing a bit of joy to your parish and your own people. Lookit, it’s a great thing but as players, we have to insulate ourselves from it, step back from all the hype and whatever fundraising is going on.
“It’s nice and it’s great to see people energetic and happy about it but we just have to focus on ourselves because ultimately you want to win at the end of the day. You can bring a bit more joy, a bit more happiness if you’re bringing a cup home.”
As proud sponsor of the AIB GAA club championships for a 28th season, the countdown to one of the biggest days on the GAA calendar began in earnest when some of the chief protagonists of their Clubs attended Croke Park today ahead of the AIB All-Ireland Senior Club hurling and football finals on St. Patricks Day.
First up on March 17th is the hurling final, where six-time winners Ballyhale Shamrocks, represented by Joey Holden, will face off against St. Thomas’ of Galway, represented by Conor Cooney, who, following their maiden Galway success in 2012, went on to collect a first All-Ireland title in 2013. In what promises to be a scintillating club hurling final, the action is due to throw-in at 2pm.