Cahair O'Kane: Leave the split season alone, it's not the problem here

A packed Celtic Park that hosted 10,000 for the 2019 Derry football final. The club game is far more engaging to the public than sections of the media would ever let you know. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
A packed Celtic Park that hosted 10,000 for the 2019 Derry football final. The club game is far more engaging to the public than sections of the media would ever let you know. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

THIS is the first week of October.

Every front page and every back page, every media website in the country, they are all carrying the same triumphant European faces led by Rory McIlroy.

The world was riveted by The Golf without ever needing to actually watch it.

Coverage of Ireland’s crunch Rugby World Cup pool decider with Scotland with crank up through this week. The Saturday, Sunday and Monday papers will be wall-to-wall with the Goys In Green.

Taylor Swift recently invented this new sport called American Football and there’s a niche pocket of Ireland coming to work on Monday mornings with zombie eyes after sitting up all night to watch it.

It’s like the sketch from That Mitchell And Webb Look said: “It will never stop. The football is officially going on forever. It will never be finally decided who has won the football. There is still everything to play for and forever to play it in!”

Sport happens. All the damn time. Everywhere. Whether you’re into volleyball or greyhounds or buzkashi, it’s never far from you.

Despite what you may read and hear, there are still Gaelic Games being played on this island.

The GAA didn’t flick off the lights in Croke Park at the end of July and go into hibernation for winter.

With the notable exceptions of The Irish News and Irish Examiner, the GAA results were mostly condemned to the deep, dark crevices of a handful of yesterday’s national newspapers.

One in particular only bothered with results from eight counties but had the space to tell us Monaco’s Maghnes Akliouche is the ninth top scorer in Ligue 1 and that Wrexham and Crewe drew 3-3 on Saturday.

But because they didn’t cover anything from the GAA club scene, well then it must not matter?

What has caused this irreparable damage to the profile and platform given to Gaelic Games?

Why, it must be the split season!

Donal Óg Cusack’s annual trips to the newsagents on the morning of the All-Ireland hurling finals have not brought dividends that would please him.

This year’s decider between four-in-a-row chasing Limerick and eternal contenders Kilkenny didn’t score highly on the novelty meter.

Played in the middle of July on the same weekend as the British Open, it sold out the 82,300 capacity of Croke Park and attracted a television audience of just under one million people.

The figures for the football final between Dublin and Kerry, also in July, were almost identical.

The overall audience peaked that day at 1.1m, compared to 1.125m for the hurling.

July All-Ireland finals will come to be even greater sporting events than their September predecessors if the Irish climate would ever do the decent thing and behave.

This idea that we’re losing out in terms of promotion because the season has finally been condensed into the length of time it actually takes to complete it without having teams sitting about for six weeks without a game is nonsense.

What difference would it actually make to the promotion of the games?

Barring actually taking almost the entire championship season back out of school term time, very little.

Players are largely hidden from public view anyway barring an open training session that happens now as it did then.

If the All-Ireland football final was on its traditional September date this year, it would have been the day after Ireland’s win over South Africa in the Rugby World Cup.

Nothing about how the two events were covered by the national media would change as a result of sharing a weekend.

Where else would you get people complaining that the games aren’t being covered properly because there are too many games?

If the GAA is struggling promotionally, it has very little to do with the split season.

The whole push against July All-Ireland finals on the basis that the GAA are losing out in the battle for hearts and minds over the head of the extra few weeks is a proper red herring.

This idea that the club scene doesn’t engage people has grown big, long legs.

If you could ever add up the number of people playing in or watching adult championship games across senior, intermediate, junior, hurling, ladies’ football, camogie and throw in increased TV audiences since RTÉ joined in…

You’re talking hundreds of thousands, every weekend for months on end.

Inter-county players that have spoken publically about it have been overwhelmingly in support of the split.

Club players might still be more tentative in their approval but that’s down to county boards not getting their side of it right yet, and memory loss in terms of what it was like before this change came about.

There won’t have been a club player in Ireland that had to change their holidays this year because their championship game was moved due to the county team lasting longer than they were meant to.

Certainty is the key. It allows them to have this strange thing called a life.

After seeing the colour in Cusack Park on Sunday, could anyone seriously argue that the only thing inspiring young footballers in Coralstown and Kinnegad is how Westmeath do in the summer?

The number of young people that will remember that day forever is often a direct relation of how many continue their involvement into adulthood.

A vibrant club scene is far more important to the GAA than September All-Ireland finals.

Ladders are on standby in towns and villages around Ireland to put the blue-and-white or the red-and-black or the green-and-gold up on every lamppost.

Those colours are what will light up the GAA’s sky in winter.

There’s no reason to shut the clubs back out in the dark.