Kicking Out: April argument not adding up for GAA
EVERY morning, the hardest-working man in The Irish News delivers the day’s newspapers to the sports desk before we slump out of our beds and arrive for a 10am start (it’s one of the great luxuries).
With the ink from the printing presses barely dried on them before his early morning start, Sean Doran leaves six different titles sitting stacked in a neat pile, ready for our perusal.
Some mornings are busier than others. While I’m scratching my head wondering how to fill this page, Mondays often offer a small window for thought. That meant an opportunity for a strong cup of tea (milk, two sugars), a bacon bap (shhh) and a few minutes to digest.
A quick, short-term study of the six titles Sean lays out, namely the Irish Independent, Belfast Telegraph, Irish Daily Star, Irish Times, Irish Daily Mirror and Irish Examiner, plus our own Irish News is revealing.
The GAA’s presence in the papers during April has been virtually non-existent.
Take the last two Mondays. There’s been a grand total of 43 pages dedicated to the GAA. Doesn’t sound too bad until you break it down. Eight of those were in last week’s Irish News, and a further 16 in The Examiner’s club championship supplement last week. Take those two out, and there has hardly been a mention.
Better still, John Horan’s interview with our own Brendan Crossan was the only prominent GAA back page story out of the 14 editions.
The widening world of podcasts has been no different. Between denouement of the longest one-horse race in history (namely the Premier League across the water), Arsene Wenger finally getting the hint and Harry Kane going through the archives to check he can’t claim a few of Pele’s goals, there’s been enough to fill 96 pages of soccer in the same papers.
The Champions Cup has been holding up rugby’s end all on its own and yet that’s been enough for it to outstrip the print GAA coverage, while it has been the dominant feature of umpteen of the best sporting podcasts in the country.
Between them, the ‘minority’ sports– boxing, motorcycling, snooker, athletics etc – have rounded up almost twice the level of attention the GAA has.
Its place in the sporting podcasts has been reduced to filler.
‘What’s the point of telling me this?’ you may well ask. And before we get into it, this is not another column complaining about a lack of meaningful access to GAA players.
Here is the point: the GAA’s argument against bringing the All-Ireland finals forward was always the fear of losing the promotional value of the September window.
They acceded that to the tune of a few weeks but they’ve always been scared that if they shorten the inter-county season by too much, they will lose their relevance. It’s always been felt by the hierarchy that they needed a presence in the media throughout as much of the year as they could have it.
But as it stands, we have a seven-month inter-county season that takes eight months to complete.
Why the difference in August and April?
Because whatever promotional value the GAA thinks it will lose by bringing the All-Ireland finals forward another month, they’re already losing in April.
And that makes it a very weak argument when it comes to defending the continuing frustration over the make-up of the calendar.
The Club Players’ Association pushed for the April ‘club-only’ window but it was only ever intended to be a sticking plaster. It was never put forward as the over-arching solution to the ongoing fixture issues.
All it has done is expose more flaws. The idea of inter-county teams breaking completely for a full month when they’re playing championship in the middle of May was never realistic, least of all without some form of sanction governing the idea.
And the concept of clubs playing championship while the inter-county team still has regular access to their players for half the week is equally unacceptable.
Nobody’s winning and the whole April idea has become a sham. It is on the very path of the winter training ban, where in two or three years’ time counties will have conveniently forgotten about its existence, and the GAA will do nothing to discourage such practice.
Imagine the difference if the All-Ireland championships began on April 6 rather than May 6. Take the dates exactly as they are now, bring everything forward by four weeks to the day and, from next year on, you would have your All-Ireland finals at the end of July.
The promotional value argument cannot wash any longer given how there has been little to fill the void for the past month, whereas was the inter-county season to end in July, there would be a straight leap into full-on club championship that would keep the ball rolling.
Instead, the April club action has the distinct whiff of filler about it: ‘Let’s get as much of this out of the road as we can’. There’s no championship played in Ulster during this month, which is only fair to clubs really, given they’ve had no chance to prepare properly.
Bringing the rest of the inter-county season forward another month would effectively split the two seasons and make a genuine, long-lasting difference to the fixture chaos.
This April idea just won’t cut it any longer, and nor will the GAA’s argument against further condensing the inter-county championships.