GAA Football

Saturday night's alright for Liam McGoldrick

Liam McGoldrick's Twitter account provided a laugh last weekend and he won't have been the only young footballer thinking the way he was. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin 

AS his Twitter account often does, Derry footballer Liam McGoldrick managed to evoke a chuckle at the weekend, tweeting: “Having GAA games on a Sunday are not good for A) my mental health B) my social life and most importantly C) my love life #lonelyliam.”

Last weekend was a rare one in Derry. There were only 13 senior club games played on the Sunday, the rest broken up over Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Liam McGoldrick’s Coleraine were one of the 26 unfortunates to have their games on Sunday afternoon (which most counties left free for the Laochra celebrations at Croke Park and which Derry clubs were given the option to). At least they were able to celebrate a third straight win.

His quiet Saturday night would have been repeated the length and breadth of the country. Like any lad from the country, my first car was my freedom. The weekend I got it, I thought I was the man. My friends played on it. Walsh’s Hotel was on in Maghera, as it was every Sunday night. I was keen to drive everywhere and considerably cheaper than a taxi.

Driving on a night out wasn’t a regular occurrence but, on this occasion, I happily obliged. And there I was at 2am, doing laps of Maghera with the window down and Radio One up full blast (it had no CD player). But I only ever went to ‘the Hotel’ if Drum had won that day. Lose and you couldn’t have looked at me until at least Tuesday.

Work Saturday (or else lie about the house), play football on Sunday afternoon, gather at our house for the taxi and head to Maghera was the usual weekend routine. There were never any outings on a Saturday night, though. As a 19-year-old, my logic was that staying in on a Saturday night was the ultimate sacrifice. It felt like you were the most committed footballer on the planet. It was like a badge of honour to walk into the changing room and not have the smell of lingering half-uns follow you.

That’s less than a decade ago, but those days are completely gone. Even junior club players going out drinking the night, or even two nights, before a game is long gone. It has its physical health benefits. But it’s hard not to feel that it has the contrary effect on other aspects of life.

You don’t need to go out and take a lock of pints every Saturday night. There are plenty of lads out there who don’t drink at all. The irony of Liam McGoldrick’s tweet is that the majority of the Coleraine team are teetotallers, as are the Slaughtneil lads winning all around them in Derry. But those lads’ dedication to their games means they are equally hamstrung.

They would love to be out hanging around a nightclub until 2am before heading home to wherever, maybe not resting their head on the pillow until some time after 3am. Doing that results in either sleeping until midday, or being sleep deprived, neither of which are good preparation for a Sunday game.

It’s a good thing Gaelic football requires decent preparation, that it pushes lads physically. Those with the drive to do so now have the resources to leave themselves in better physical shape than ever. But it’s not good that it leaves them with no time for anything else in life.

The slightly less immature adult male footballer - we’ll refer to him as ‘the Family Man’ - doesn’t get off scot-free either. Particularly for those with young children, giving up your entire Sunday to travel to a game can become a real burden.

There is also the issue of work. There are still so many men spending their weeks in Scotland and England, returning on a Friday, heading straight to training, playing on a Sunday and then straight back on the boat.

There are many pressures associated with football on a Sunday. And there is also the frustration of not seeing Championship games live, either on TV or in person. Outside of Derry’s three games last summer, which I was working at, I saw one other full provincial football match live in the whole summer. I was at least fortunate that it was the Westmeath v Meath game.

I even had to get up from my seat at half-time in the Ulster final in Clones, pack my bag (I worked on the minor game) and look down the hill at the packed St Tiernach’s Park as I walked to my car to drive home for a match that evening.

Those are some of the reasons why I’ve become absolutely convinced that all club football should be played at 5.30pm on Saturdays. Think about it. Friday evening football remains a regular occurrence in Down. It seems to work quite well. But for lads working away, it’s an absolute nightmare. Even for men working at home, it’s a tough ask to do things like manage your food properly on the day of a game. For some, physically getting home in time is a struggle.

And then you have the issue of rest. Managers will feel Sunday is a day that can be used for training purposes, if there’s been a full day off since the game. That couldn’t happen if games were on a Saturday evening. If a manager called training for Sunday mornings, he’d be looking at either a busy treatment room or an empty changing room very quickly.

The only people I can think of who would be disadvantaged by games being on a Saturday are those who play soccer or rugby. Those who work Saturdays in the construction industry rarely work past 1pm. They would certainly be home in time for a 5.30pm game, home or away.

For younger men maybe on shift work in bars or nightclubs that night, their game would be over in time for them to report for work. And although I have no statistics to back it up, I’m fairly sure the GAA would benefit on the whole from increased attendances at inter-county championship games.

What better day out for the lads, or the Family Man, than to load the car, throw on the sunglasses and go to a game? The weekend past was the prime example. I turned down Croke Park on Sunday in favour of an evening shift in the office so I could play (and I use the term ‘play’ very loosely after my display).

Traditionalists will say that it’s a Sunday game, but the world has moved on. The GAA is sometimes slow to adapt to that. Moving club football will release the social pressure valve on young men up and down the country.

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