Colm O’Rourke says he’s glad to see the back of April

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - COLM O’ROURKE

BY wip­ing out in­ter-county ac­tiv­ity in April, the GAA has guaranteed that the sports pages and air­waves have had wall-to-wall cover­age of rugby, through Le­in­ster and Mun­ster, and soc­cer’s Cham­pi­ons League.

At times like this it is just as well I only have to write about foot­ball on a Sun­day. GAA re­porters and colum­nists have had to in­vent some news to try to keep some kind of show go­ing. An in­ter­view with a player who says some­thing earth shat­ter­ing like, “we are ex­pect­ing a very hard game in the first round of the cham­pi­onship and we are not look­ing beyond that”; or af­ter win­ning a game, “every­one wrote us off and it be­came an in­spi­ra­tion to the whole team”.

It should be con­sti­pa­tion for any­one read­ing such rub­bish. Peo­ple get their mo­ti­va­tion from var­i­ous sources but prov­ing the scribes or com­men­ta­tors wrong must be the worst rea­son for performance. Play­ers should play be­cause of their own mo­ti­va­tion and am­bi­tion, and out­side fac­tors should be ex­actly that.

I sup­pose car­ry­ing these sort of quotes does give a ser­vice as it re­flects a cer­tain lack of con­fi­dence which is a char­ac­ter­is­tic of the GAA: a fear of say­ing some­thing which may be held against them while at the same time cry­ing out to be taken se­ri­ously as a per­son for em­ploy­ment pur­poses. There is a bit of a con­tra­dic­tion.

Any­way, the first own goal of April was to leave the field free for other sports to take over the na­tional me­dia — and lo­cal me­dia too. Per­haps it does not make much dif­fer­ence to some­body tog­ging out for their ju­nior team on a Sat­ur­day evening be­fore giv­ing the town a right lash, but games gen­er­ate pub­lic­ity, in­ter­est and in­spi­ra­tion for young play­ers.

It is a moot point whether foot­ball could sur­vive and pros­per as a club game only. There is ev­ery chance that it would, as clubs who are well or­gan­ised at un­der­age level will get their young play­ers to con­tinue to turn out be­cause they know they will get en­joy­ment out of play­ing.

In the mean­time, it’s a feast or a famine at na­tional level. From next week there will be so much ac­tiv­ity that the GAA me­dia will not be able to keep up.

I can’t see much point in cry­ing about the lack of cover­age given to Gaelic games when there is noth­ing on — even if I have writ­ten in the past about the un­will­ing­ness to some­times give the na­tional sports a fair crack of the whip in some sec­tions of the me­dia.

In some cases there seems to be an at­ti­tude that the GAA is some type of lesser body and pro­fes­sional sports are more wor­thy of cover­age. Surely it should be the op­po­site: that our own games de­serve spe­cial at­ten­tion be­cause they con­tinue to be am­a­teur, com­mu­nity-based games which can never com­pete against global, pro­fes­sional sports.

Even some county ex­ec­u­tives are now pub­licly ques­tion­ing the rea­son­ing be­hind the April cur­few. Last week the Mayo chair­man said that it was not work­ing.

Of course there is a com­plete un­fair­ness built into a sys­tem where some coun­ties are play­ing cham­pi­onship in early May while oth­ers are not out un­til much later, yet they are all ex­pected to ob­serve the same reg­u­la­tions in April.

In the par­tic­u­lar case of Mayo there is ob­vi­ously a dilemma as clubs want their play­ers for league and cham­pi­onship matches while the Mayo team are try­ing to pre­pare for the high noon show­down with Gal­way in a fort­night. Mean­while, Gal­way do not seem to have taken the April edict very se­ri­ously and have had no cham­pi­onship matches in­volv­ing county play­ers. So where is the fair­ness?

Any county man­ager who found him­self in the Mayo sce­nario would have shouted foul. If they lose to Gal­way then a hard road lies ahead. It does not nec­es­sar­ily mean the end of the road but un­like Robert Frost, with his roads di­verg­ing in a yel­low wood, Mayo are bet­ter to take the road more trav­elled, as this will take them on the short­est route to the big eight.

Gal­way do not seem to have taken the April edict very se­ri­ously

Some have taken the long road and found it a re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence — Mayo last year, Ty­rone and Gal­way be­fore them, while the most en­joy­able year for me play­ing foot­ball was the 10 games to get to the All-Ire­land fi­nal in 1991 . . . at least un­til the fi­nal. More games means less train­ing. That is the way it should be.

Yet it is hard to feel sorry for a lot of county board ex­ec­u­tives who are now see­ing the folly of clos­ing down for April. They voted for it. In fact there was a lem­ming-like rush to jump off the cliff when these pro­pos­als were put to them as if they were the ten com­mand­ments be­ing handed down. All these same of­fi­cials had to do was to look at the way club foot­ball was or­gan­ised in their own coun­ties and see how these new pro­pos­als would fit in to them.

Of course many did take a look at the over­all pic­ture, knew they were creating a com­plete, un­holy mess and still voted for it. I think this phe­nom­e­non could be termed the hyp­notic power of those in au­thor­ity. So even if every­one knew this was a non-run­ner, it was still passed by these of­fi­cials be­cause it came from on high and the un­der­lings de­cided that even if it looked like a camel it must be some­thing else. Whereas if this idea came from a Joe Bloggs it would have been laughed out of court. And there is the knock-on ef­fect at the end of the year too: there will be no se­ri­ous county foot­ball for six months af­ter Au­gust.

The All-Ire­land fi­nal will be over, there will be no rea­son for hun­dreds if not thou­sands to come home from abroad in Septem­ber and there will be a lack of GAA cover­age across ev­ery me­dia plat­form. Don’t blame the journalists ei­ther: they want to write about the games but must fear the pe­riod from Au­gust to the fol­low­ing Fe­bru­ary.

It does not have to be like this, it does not have be one or the other. Club and county can co­ex­ist from Fe­bru­ary to Oc­to­ber with a proper fix­tures plan — one that all sides can be happy with. Per­haps this is part of a cun­ning plan by the for­mer pres­i­dent and direc­tor-gen­eral; they knew it would spark the rad­i­cal change needed by creating a com­plete mess in the short term. Hope­fully this is the dark­est hour be­fore the dawn.

Long­ford and Ca­van play to­day in Gra­nard at the open­ing of a pitch at the Cnoc Mhuire school grounds. I don’t know whether it breaks any of the April reg­u­la­tions but it is a good cause. Es­pe­cially as Ca­van are play­ing Done­gal in a fort­night and all other coun­ties seem to be back play­ing on the dreaded chal­lenge match cir­cuit.

Just as well next Sun­day is in the merry month of May and the le­git­i­mate mad­ness can be­gin. The stick the GAA made to beat them­selves can be put away, and proper me­dia cover­age can be­gin again.

Don’t blame the journalists, they want to write about games, but there’s just none on. Photo: Stephen McCarthy

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