It’s almost that time of year again. The festive season will just have passed and already, whistles will be blown around the country. The preseason tournaments will have begun.
Here we take a look at the winners and losers when it comes to these tournaments and ask, are they really worth it?
Every January, a mix of county and college teams, up and down the country take part in various pre-season tournaments, in both football and hurling.
Be it the McKenna Cup in Ulster, or the O’Byrne Cup in Leinster, each province has its own competition. There is a certain novelty attached to seeing your county going up against a college side and getting to see some of your own county’s up-and-coming stars.
However, these weakened panels, can often lead to one sided games which do little to grab the attention of supporters in general.
These games are often played in front of attendances which rarely number above 400 or 500. Then you get the likes of Dublin, who in the 2017 O’Byrne Cup, fielded a panel that come summer time, was unrecognisable.
The main problem here is, who does this benefit? Yes, young and fringe players might get a chance, but you have to wonder, what is the point in bringing in players, who have no realistic chance of making the panel when championship season comes around.
It must be demoralising for such players, to feel like they are being used simply as practice squad players, who are never given a fair crack of the whip come the business end of the season.
Yes there are exceptions to the rule, for every ten players that don’t make it, your county may unearth one seriously promising talent.
From this point of view, the pre-season tournaments are a positive thing, which should be continued in order to ensure that young talent does get a chance to show what they’re made of.
From a fan’s viewpoint however, you want to see your county’s best players lining out for your county in competitive games.
Now, you can argue that there is no point in playing star players in what are essentially warm-up games for the year ahead. Of course, the tournaments do spring the odd competitive game, but for the most part, the contests lack real competitive edge.
This could be attributed to the weakened county panels, but also in some cases, the colleges. When you look at the FBD League for instance, this year will see no college teams taking place, due to the one sided nature of games involving them, in recent years. Munster too has opted to leave the third-level teams out for these tournaments.
It’s unrealistic to expect young men, playing at that level to be able to compete with county teams, even with the weakened panels.
At least their decision to withdraw, might make for a somewhat more interesting tournament this year.
Of course, you have certain colleges the likes of Ulster University, who can compete with the county sides, but in truth college sides like this are more a rarity than the norm.
Overall, it has to be said the pre-season schedule has its merits. The unearthing of new players and the chance for some fringe players to impress, being the main benefits.
However, the negatives far outweigh this, with lots of players committing serious time and effort only to be cut from the squad come league or championship time.
The pre-season tournaments therefore should be scrapped, with an earlier start to the league earlier and with any luck, leave more time for club fixtures before the beginning of the championship season.
You could only hope that the GAA must be at least considering this, for the benefit of everyone within the organisation.
David Alford, Pundit Arena