Off the Fence: 'The Green Banks of Corrigan are embarrassing ye'
NOTHING sings to the heart like an old-style, hand-written, double-sided A4 letter finished off with a bit of alternate poetry.
That's what we're all about here at Off The Fence. Keep your Twitter. Stuff your Facebook. Text or email, pah. We want effort. We want to see the ink still drying on the page as the postman manually delivers it. And the handwriting, you should see it. Magnifico.
The only problem with ‘Saffron Grassoots' well thought-out and well-constructed submission is that, in part, he's directing his ire at the wrong people. But strap yourself in anyway…
“Sunday, February 4, Whiterock Road, Belfast. Antrim v Dublin. A 20-minute queue for tickets, a bit of jostling, tutting agus a cupla focal eile. The game was already started. Corrigan Park, a nip in the air but blue skies overhead. I'll grab a coffee now and that will do me until, well, after the half-time rush. Where will I stand? Will I go that side or the other side? Ach sure I'm grand here, both grass banks were fairly well occupied. Hit the rewind button! Sunday, January 28, Lonemoor Road, Derry. Double-header. Derry v Down plus Derry v Westmeath. I parked 30 yards from the stand, queued for three minutes, handed over £20 and got £9 change. Through the turnstile and had my choice of seat, a plastic one and concrete underfoot with roof cover. A choice of toilet blocks, hot and cold drinks and snacks. Yes it rained, but not on any supporters in the stand, and there was plenty of available seating. Fast forward now! When I eventually made the ticket hut at Corrigan, I signalled for one ticket. £13. “Are you sure?” I commented. “Yip” was the retort. I set down a tenner and was reluctantly looking for three more. I told him he had forgotten his mask. He smirked, lifted the tenner and well, I lifted the ticket and walked to the main entrance. Cupla focal eile followed me to the gate. Wet, slippery grass banks to stand on and no cover in the event of rain. I have played on Corrigan Park many times. Fallen out with the Johnnies, blocked a certain goal that fractured my arm in two places that kept me out of work for nine months. It is a good, well organised club, plenty of club members on hand to do all they can in respect of comfort and safety on days like this.
Antrim county, on the other hand, £13 entrance fee, no doubt coming off the back of the result against Galway. ‘There'll be a big crowd next week.' Invest some of the thousands into a suitably situated ground within the county, of which there are plenty, and put up a stand.
”Far across yonder blue lies a true fairy land,
With the sea rippling over the shingle and sand,
And the gay honeysuckle is luring the bee,
And the green banks of Corrigan are embarrassing ye.”
CO'K: On the ticket prices, they are set centrally by Croke Park and not by Antrim county board. £13 for hurling does seem like an unnecessary rise on the price of entry of football, no matter how inferior hurlers might consider the big ball game to be. But on the point of needing a covered stand somewhere in rural Antrim, there can be no argument. Antrim county board have been caught between two stools on it, waiting for Casement to be built and trying to manage their way out of financial difficulty. Maybe between Ulster Council and Croke Park, they could cobble together £1m to put up a small stand at Corrigan or one of the north Antrim venues.
MOVING on to matters equally familiar with this column, namely Mickey Harte. His interview with Mark Sidebottom on Saturday night might have gotten a bit less traction on a busier weekend but as it was, there wasn't a pile else to talk about so they took the limelight.
I'm not sure if our ‘Anonymous' contributor is a fan or a critic. He seems to start off as one and morph completely into the other.
“So Mickey Harte's not happy with all the criticism he's getting with regards the defensive system. I'd have to back him up on that because all teams are at the same, but why that is is because there are no good defenders. They need the cover of a blanket defence because there's nobody capable of marking a man. [All good so far]
“I would have been critical of Mickey the last number of years because he doesn't know his strongest team. As a matter of fact, he doesn't know the spine of his team. To make 13 changes at the weekend and expect to win, Jim Gavin wouldn't do that. It's been 10 years since Tyrone were in an All-Ireland final – if Mickey thinks he's been successful for the last 10 years, I wouldn't like to think what failure would be.”
CO'K: Jim Gavin played his entire ‘B' team in pre-season the last two years.
AND oh, look, what have we here? Ah it's yourself, ‘Mr Championship Structure'. What's wrong with you now? Don't you be coming in that door if you're tripping with tiers.
“Rather than split the All-Ireland SFC could the GAA look at a model whereby all teams have the opportunity to qualify for the SFC within existing and new structures.
“By introducing a SFC with 16 teams and a secondary championship involving all other counties you could achieve qualification as follows.
“SFC: All-Ireland champions from previous year, winner of the secondary competition from previous year and the four provincial champions from this calendar year.
”The remaining places would go to the top ranked sides from the National Football League in that calendar year who are not already qualified.
”You could run both competitions as straight knockout with an open draw in the secondary championship. You could then seed the SFC to keep the provincial champions apart, perhaps with a guaranteed home draw at the last 16 stage.
“The result would be the opportunity for all counties to compete for the All-Ireland either through league position or winning at provincial or All-Ireland level.
“This would link the league into the rest of the season hopefully increasing the profile of the competition and matches, as well as maintaining the provincial structures which seem integral to the GAA.”
CO'K: But, er… isn't that just a split championship? Not that I disagree with that part of the idea.