Cahair O'Kane: Club finals need their own window to survive
GREAT champions can find it hard to retain public affection over time but Corofin are an incredibly easy team to love.
Since their scare in the Galway final, when they drew 0-7 apiece with Mountbellew before scraping through the replay, they’ve shredded each and every opponent in a manner that makes watching them feel almost voyeuristic.
Dr Crokes came to Croke Park on Sunday with their own Celtic Crosses from 2017 and a semi-final win over the Connacht men that year for reassurance, but it was quickly apparent that they were no match.
The red card only brought early confirmation of what was inevitable. By the time John Payne was rightly sent off, Dylan Wall had hit the crossbar and Shane Murphy had made a stunning save to tip Daithi Burke’s effort over, yet Corofin still had 2-4 in the bank.
The skills were one thing, but it was as much the execution and the selflessness of it all.
There was nothing simple about how they tore Dr Crokes’ understandable gameplan to pieces. The Kerry men, once they conceded the first goal especially, went very un-Kerry.
There were times they had 13 men within 25 yards of their own goal, hounding and hassling and desperately trying to force mistakes.
They never happened. Corofin kept weaving and dancing and passing their way into a space. Their decision-making, the hardest thing of all to coach, was Dublin-esque.
Allied to the way Ballyhale took into St Thomas’ in the hurling decider, hitting a record 2-28, it was a day of two outstanding performances rather than two outstanding games.
The worry was that there were only 17,819 people there to see them.
That, like last year, was well shy of an average of 32,902 for the first eight finals of this decade.
For it to happen once can be explained away, as it was when the games last year ran headlong in an Irish bid for a Six Nations Grand Slam.
On this occasion, it was the Welsh with the champagne on ice which made the eggball slightly less of an attraction. Mostly it was a weekend where the GAA was competing with itself.
The fact that St Patrick’s Day fell on a Sunday and that the tightening of the fixtures calendar meant a round of inter-county fixtures were to be played soaked up much of the public appetite.
The club championships are a strange being in that their beginning engages every GAA person the length and breadth of Ireland, but by its end its direct impact on St Patrick’s Day falls upon four parishes.
For a decade, interest held strong. Almost 33,000 on average is a healthy crowd.
If ever an All-Ireland decider was an easy sell pre-match, it was Corofin v Dr Crokes. Their recent histories and their respective styles made talking its potential up into a very easy task.
That begs the question: is enough being done to create a sense of occasion around it?
That extends to those far beyond the corridors of power, and comes right into our own profession.
The column inches dedicated to the All-Ireland club finals across the last week and yesterday morning were not significant.
How much of what the media does reflects public opinion, and how much of what it does shapes opinion?
Do people become genuinely disinterested when their own club or county (even province, as is often the case with Ulster) has no involvement, or is their fence-sitting on whether they’ll go to the game exacerbated by that lack of coverage in the lead-in?
You can but compare the ladies’ football finals of recent years, which have seen a huge upsurge in attendance built largely off the back of the promotion of the games, with a heavy focus on the week of the game.
The media as a whole (and none of us are exempt from these charges) has, ironically, got questions to answer. It’s an industry like any other, one that needs money to survive.
There’s a feeling that the inter-county game drives its income, and so when there’s a straight choice as there was this weekend, the safe option is to focus on Dublin-Tyrone and Kerry-Mayo as much as on the following day’s All-Ireland finals.
That leads back to a quandary for the GAA though.
John Horan has made the suggestion of switching the All-Ireland club finals to January from 2020, with St Patrick’s Day being used for reintroduced semi-finals in Division One of the football league.
It’s a genuine factor that Croke Park can be so unbearably cold in March. Imagine what it will feel like in the January frost.
To move the club finals into the dark of winter could make another significant dent in the neutral attendance.
But equally that could be offset by an increase in promotion at a time when there’s no inter-county action worth talking about, and no rugbyitis to contend with.
The Christmas period and early January are fallow periods for the GAA talking shop. Something has to fill the airtime and the pages.
Even in spite of the weather, the club game perhaps does stand a better chance if the deciders do move.
It desperately needs its own shop window.
Because make no mistake, as much as the GAA needs its inter-county game to thrive, it needs its provincial and All-Ireland club championships to do the same.
They are the piece of thread holding the entire thing together. If their allure is allowed to be swallowed up, their importance becomes diluted, and with that the whole house of cards starts to cave in.
The club game cannot afford any more slippage. It’s already absent of its inter-county players for 10 months of the year in most counties.
Never mind about it thriving, the championship element and that pathway to greater successes than a county title are imperative to its survival.
The weekend past showed that the neutral interest takes a big hit when the inter-county game goes into contest with the club game.
Whatever it is that has to move to avoid that happening again, it has to move quick.