GAA Football

Kicking Out: Unreliable club fixtures putting all this good global warming to waste

Antrim is the one Ulster county where inter-county players continued to consistently play club games through the middle of the championship period. Picture by Seamus Loughran

GLOBAL warming is under-rated.

On Sunday, the thermometer at the back of our house hit 26 degrees. In the shade.

To the smell of barbequed pork and apple burgers, and the taste of a refreshing ice-cold pint of Orchard Thieves, Donegal and Meath slugged it out on the TV.

It’s how Sundays were intended to be. And thanks to global warming, we’re experiencing more of these summer Sundays than ever before.

A good day when we were being reared was one when the sky was a slightly lighter shade of grey. Anything above 11 degrees in summer and we’d the mother tormented to take us to Benone.

While polar ice caps are melting elsewhere, Ireland is simply warming to a reasonable temperature.

I speak now as an old, married father-of-two. Had this weather come along 10 years ago, it would have been about Saturday evenings in the beer garden and on out to one of the south Derry hostelries (north Derry lads always had to travel on account of there being nowhere socially attractive between Derry city and Maghera).

The only thing better than those summer Sundays was stepping on to the freshly-cut pitch that our groundsman Jim had been out at the day before. It’s stripped out beautifully.

The feeling of that size 5 in your bare hands on a summer’s day, going through the warm-up as the crowd starts to pull in at your back ready for throw-in.

Games were always better in the sun. Everyone seemed more invested. Maybe it was that they actually enjoyed it rather than turning up just because that’s what you do.

Sunday night was our big night in Walsh’s, largely because the club games were over and Monday mornings weren’t a problem at that stage.

The night ended belting out the lyrics of Living On A Prayer before heading to the Lucky Dragon looking for a scientific breakthrough in how to fit an entire chicken curry, fried rice and chips into one container that you could sneak into the taxi.

While Sunday nights were there to be enjoyed, the rest of the weekend was quiet. Football kept everyone on the straight and narrow.

From Monday morning until early Sunday evening, it revolved around that weekend’s game.

Invariably, it was played at 3.30pm on the Sunday. It was, even in recent years, a timetable for five months of the year that you could have set your watch by.

Club football is no longer a reliability. And in a time where there are so many other distractions in the world, the last thing the GAA needs to be is unreliable.

This summer, there’s a whole generation of young Tyrone lads that have sat that long on their hands that they’ll be numb for weeks.

Just as last year, the club scene in the county has shut up shop. Since April 26, there have been just three rounds of Division One games. The last of them were played on June 9.

The next round of fixtures in the county are set for July 28, which is the gap weekend in the Super 8s. Whether those games actually go ahead, and whether they’re played with or without county players, remains to be seen.

Chances are that Tyrone will be in an All-Ireland semi-final at least. That would be played on the weekend of August 10/11. The earliest the club scene in Tyrone is likely to properly kick back into gear is August 18.

From there, they have seven league games to play and a straight knockout championship. That’s not a big window for such a volume of games.

But at least they have eight played already.

In Derry, there have been just four club league games this year, all of them before April 28. The leagues there only resume tomorrow night, and that would likely have been delayed again had Derry U20s won Ulster on Sunday.

At the time Stephen Barker unveiled the plan to do this, it seemed like a decent solution to the county’s footballers, hurlers and U20s all being in action from May until early July.

But it relied heavily on the clubs buying into the mid-season competitions.

A lot of senior teams cut way back on their training this year at the end of April, and even more established senior clubs have had trouble getting numbers out.

The mid-season games were meaningless and infrequent. As it stands now, they’re all trying to work in what is basically a second pre-season before the real business starts up again.

Every county has its own way of dealing with the problem. Monaghan have a handful of five-point games when county players are all available, but play away at two-point encounters when they aren’t.

Armagh players that weren’t in their 26-man squad, and those on the way back from injury, played with their clubs but the rest didn’t. They’ve ploughed on and have played 12 games without a single break period.

Cavan, Down and Donegal are practically the same. The clubs see little or nothing of their players between the end of April and the end of their inter-county season, whenever that might be.

Only Antrim have managed to keep playing club games and have their county panellists involved.

Their short inter-county summers are a factor in that, but with the exception of taking the weekend of their Tyrone game off, they had men playing club football and hurling right through.

It’s part of the problem with fixing the fixtures, that you’re met with such contrasting mindsets. In Derry and Antrim in particular, it would do the county team no favours to tell players they couldn’t play with their clubs.

Frustration is growing in Tyrone at the current situation, but there’s a level of acceptance that it’s what helps keep the county team challenging for All-Irelands, and that the players themselves genuinely want to play for their clubs.

But two or three-month spells with no club games during the height of good summers are not doing the sport any favours at all.

America has never been on the table for so many lads, who can head off, play their few months of football, earn a few dollars, live the life and still be home for club championship having missed practically nothing.

The new fixtures committee at Croke Park has a lot on its hands, and it can only do so much about a county’s internal views on the way it structures its club football.

Amongst it all, there isn’t really a sense that the inter-county season will be cut the way it needs to in order to facilitate county players lining out with their clubs most weeks.

But the situations in Derry and Tyrone especially just won’t cut it. Those huge gaps without meaningful club games are simply too damaging to the club game to be let continue.

Sorting it out is not just on the county boards, but the clubs themselves.

Otherwise all this fine global warming will go to waste.

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