A feast of club football awaits as split-season switches focus to grassroots

The rare oul times... Joe Brolly and Pat Spillane are still capable of an on-air joust
The rare oul times... Joe Brolly and Pat Spillane are still capable of an on-air joust

THE press box at Croke Park is on the seventh floor and with our copy filed, the Irish News sports team piled into the lift and pushed ‘1’ to make our way out of Headquarters on Sunday night.

The men’s county season done and dusted, we headed for Apple Green for the last supper and as I munched through my burger with red sauce running down my chin, I looked across at Cahair O’Kane and Kenny Archer and asked: “Right, what are we gonna do until January?”

The answer is: report on an absolute carnival of top quality club action (and the next chapter in the Down managerial saga) of course but I must admit that after being fattened up on an almost endless diet of county games, it took me a while to realise that the GAA has plotted the right course by splitting the season.

I remember the hundreds of excited kids hanging off the fences at the Athletic Grounds in March when Kerry arrived to play Armagh in Division One.

The stadium was packed to the rafters and as I watched the action unfold and the youngsters revel in every single second of watching Rian O’Neill, David Clifford, Stefan Campbell and the many other stars that lit up the Championship this year, the thought occurred to me that the GAA was committing suicide by shortening the inter-county season.

“We need more of these big games, not less,” I thought.

But as the weeks went by I changed that opinion and realised that it’s quality – not quantity – that really counts.

And of course the youngsters who were watching the action that day – and those who watched county games all around the country – were all ushered and nurtured into Gaelic Games by their clubs and that the focus has now switched to the clubs can only benefit the GAA going forward.

No clubs – no county – no GAA.

Everything begins with the clubs and that’s why I think the GAA has got the balance right. Yes, we’ll miss the inter-county action - us reporters most of all – but the excitement and variety offered by club championship action across Ulster is a chance to report on what really makes the GAA tick.

That same Sunday night on The Sunday Game, RTE reporter Marty Morrissey remarked on how the men’s season had come to an end. GAA President Larry McCarthy begged to differ. Only the inter-county season was over, he quite rightly pointed out, the club season was about to begin and that switched the focus onto the vast majority – 98 per cent – of the people who play the game.

The change is for the many, not the few and there will be many benefits from the split season. For one, county players will all have the opportunity to fully connect with their clubs, something that had been on the wane up until a couple of years ago.

Another is that a five-month break will distil the inter-county season to a purity that could well have been lost.

Remember the Super 8s? It’s not that long ago that they seemed here to stay. The Super 8 system, you could certainly argue, was designed purely to provide content and revenue for subscription broadcasters who were only interested in seeing the bigger counties play each other as often as possible.

Kerry v Dublin, Dublin v Tyrone, Kerry v Tyrone, Galway v Mayo… If they had continued to flog them to death their rivalries would have been diluted and the GAA’s golden geese would have had their necks on the block.

The split-season means that when these counties meet each game will be a special, unmissable occasion and so when the inter-county action returns the crowds will flock to the games and the clashes will regain their unique clarity and excitement because every fixture will be meaningful.

So let’s enjoy and support the club action for the rest of this year. When the inter-county season returns, the youngsters will be hanging off the fences again.

DAVID Clifford is an absolutely superb footballer. He’s big, he’s smart and quick, determined, he’s got all the skills, composed, he can catch it, take frees, throw dummies… He’s a brilliant player but the best ever, the G.O.A.T.? I can’t bring myself to go there.

I don’t think there’s ever been a better forward than the down-to-earth Fossa genius but it seems a little knee-jerk and overly-dramatic to lose the run of ourselves and proclaim Clifford better than all the great men who have gone before him. It is a brand of sensationalism that comes from other sports.

Joe Brolly has no doubt that Clifford is the greatest player we’ve ever seen and he is a good judge of a footballer. But I had to chuckle this week when listening to a podcast which featured Brolly and Pat Spillane this week.

Joe was once again extolling the greatness of Clifford as the best player EVER to play Gaelic Football EVER when Spillane cut him off at the bootlaces.

“Joe,” he said.

“I just checked my files recently to note that in April a Mr Joe Brolly said Darren McCurry was the best footballer in Ireland…”

“Erm, well, at that point in time he was remarkable,” countered ambushed Brolly, pushed onto the back foot for once. Another win for Kerry.