Long suffering GAA supporters are well used to spending January afternoons frozen stiff in a stand or terrace, watching managerial tickets put the potential stars of the summer through their paces (although, given the sodden conditions underfoot, it is usually a much slower pace).
However, that isn’t necessarily the case given that many players nationwide are not available to play in these competitions because of commitments to teams from the year before.
We are coming into a time of the year where a fifth season runs concurrently with spring in the GAA world. While the word originates in ancient Irish, it’s known now simply as ‘we’re not getting carried away’ season. These months are undermined from the get-go by the fact that some of the previous year’s competitions are still on-going.
Take this writer’s native county, Kerry. Sunday January 10th saw the footballers’ line out in Killarney against Clare in the McGrath cup. Players not available for that game included the 2015 squad – with the exceptions of Killian Young, Marc O’Sé and Kieran Donaghy who didn’t travel – who returned from their team holiday the day before.
St Mary’s and Templenoe club players who are competing in the All-Ireland club championships were also not considered for selection.
Most astonishing was the fact that two County League division two promotion playoffs from 2015 were scheduled for the same time as the Kerry versus Clare match.
This meant players from Spa of Killarney, John Mitchells of Tralee and Rathmore (St Mary’s were the fourth club) were also deprived of the chance to impress in a county jersey, even if it would have been in a game no one took seriously.
Success with your club should not hinder your opportunity to play with your county.
Competitions like the McGrath Cup have been regulars in the GAA calendar for several seasons now. However, it’s ridiculous to call what the GAA use, a calendar. It’s more akin to a continuous list of games that may well have begun a decade or so ago and forgot to stop.
That sounds like an exaggeration, but there isn’t a weekend that goes by in a calendar year where there isn’t an adult fixture in most counties in the country.
Surely, given the example in Kerry – something that occurs a minimum of four counties each spring – it’s time for a clear-cut calendar year season. (Four minimum – i.e. one county providing all provincial club champions).
It seems teams, managers and fans won’t really take any result seriously until halfway through the league at the earliest, drubbings aside.
It’s the way it has been for years, that these ‘pre-season’ competitions are not important to anyone involved directly. When the point of the January competitions is to try out new players for the coming season, and even that can’t be done, you begin to think that there is a case for scrapping them.
Yet they should be removed. Given the right respect, these competitions absolutely have a purpose and with the sink or swim nature of the league nowadays, blooding players beforehand is vital.
This is in no way disrespecting the players who represented Kerry last Sunday, nor any player lining out in January for that matter. Some may not get the opportunity to wear their county jersey again, and that’s another reason why these competitions are important. Try convincing anybody that beating Dublin yesterday meant nothing to the Longford footballers, even if it is mid-January and not mid-July.
What’s disappointing is knowing that last weekend it became literally impossible for several individuals in Kerry at least, to be both club and county players.
That is not what the GAA is about.