Armagh club game getting stronger and split season will help says Maghery manager Finnian Moriarty
THE Covid-19 pandemic turned out to be the catalyst for a long-awaited restructuring of the GAA fixtures calendar and the new club/county split season format is good news for the game at all levels, says former Armagh defender Finnian Moriarty, now manager of his county’s senior champions Maghery.
“I think everybody agrees it will help us all because we’re always talking about too much training and not enough football - particularly for inter-county players who had been training from maybe October or November and only getting seven National League games and a couple of Championship games,” he said.
“Those players are missing out on playing for their club and representing their parish so I think it was an inevitability that it – a split season - was going to happen at some stage, this pandemic has just kicked it on down the road a wee bit quicker.
“The GAA seems to be reluctant to change anything bar the playing rules of Gaelic Football – they’ll change them every time they turn round – but they wouldn’t change the calendar. There was a long time when they wouldn’t listen to anyone’s ideas for the calendar – it was just going to be their way or the high way – but the pandemic has made them rethink it.”
Four well-taken goals saw Maghery beat Crossmaglen to win last year’s Armagh senior championship for only the second time in the club’s history. Despite that, Aidan Forker was the only player from the county champions to feature for Armagh last season even though midfielder Ben Crealey and centre half-back Ciaran Higgins were among those who looked to have the tools to step up to inter-county level.
One of the many potential benefits of the new format is that players will no longer miss out on playing for their club while biding their time waiting for an opportunity to impress with their county.
“It would be very much personal choice whether boys commit to county football or not,” said Moriarty.
“There is a lot in committing to it nowadays - it’s not a four nights-a-week thing, it’s a seven days-a-week thing now and it depends what stage you’re at in your life and whether you’re getting a lot of game-time.
“In previous seasons, boys were missing out on playing for their club and then not getting game-time with the county. A split season negates that sort of thing happening so maybe there will be more players available to the county but, then again, they have to be selected by the county manager and they have to want to go.”
And of course the split season works the other way too. Moriarty says that having county players available for training and for matches will raise the standards at club level.
“If you have the county players able to play for their clubs week-in, week-out, it’s not only going to improve the standard of the football on show, it will also improve the standard of club players who will get to train with their county team-mates,” he said.
“Even one person at county level can raise the standard of training and raise the expectations of everybody around them.
“The other thing is that people won’t have to choose what to go to now – there won’t be a choice between watching Armagh in a National League game and going to watch their club and that’ll mean that more county players will get to go to county matches as well.”
Moriarty views the standard of club football in the county as “strong in that anybody can beat anybody on a particular day” and that view is backed out by a look back over recent championships. There have been three winners of the championship (Maghery, Cross and Armagh Harps) in the last four seasons while Ballymacnab have appeared in two finals.
“Over the last few years you’ve had the same number of teams in and around the latter stages of the championship but it is definitely improving and you can trace that back to the splitting of the leagues into eight teams per division (from 1A down to 3B),” said Moriarty.
“There is the issue that it can be very hard to get up to 1A and stay up there and I would have found that myself when I was playing for the Tones (Wolfe Tone GAC) but it is strong in Armagh and this split season will strengthen it even further, without doubt.”