Pat Spillane: This split-season idea has me furious – the GAA are losing huge opportunities for making the game more popular
There are only eight full weekends left in the GAA season and, apart from fanatics like me, nobody is talking about the Championship
ind you, there have been few enough talking points in football. Mayo’s early Connacht exit has been forgotten about.
The less said about the Leinster Championship the better – the
semi-finals were played in an atmosphere normally only found at a wake.
We had a mini-controversy in Munster about the venue for the Cork v Kerry game, but nothing since.
Tyrone’s demise in Ulster was definitely a talking point as has been the emergence of Derry.
But let’s face it, these issues do not engage anybody other than the GAA anoraks.
The fair-weather fans are not attending games. They have been preoccupied by either the cross-channel soccer or rugby’s Champions Cup.
Though the GAA have four provincial finals and seven games in the Tailteann Cup involving 22 counties this weekend, I guess the majority of the public will scarcely notice.
Instead, they were focused on yesterday’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid and the Champions Cup decider between Leinster and La Rochelle.
The GAA’s decision to squeeze their two elite Championships into a 15-week time span beggars belief.
It makes me increasingly angrier with each passing week.
The maddening thing is that even though the championship has been condensed, the schedule still seems to favour the top teams.
Take Kerry, the favourites for the Sam Maguire Cup. They had a five-week break from the league final until the semi-final against Cork; they then had a three-week break until yesterday’s Munster final and have a four-week break until the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Purely from a football perspective, the four-week break is not ideal, and I’m not surprised that Jack O’Connor has expressed reservations about it. It is a disadvantage for all four provincial winners.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see an upset in the All-Ireland quarter-finals as the team that come through the back door will be battle-hardened.
Take Armagh, for example. They could have played three Division 1 teams (Donegal, Tyrone and one of the defeated provincial finalists) in order to secure a place in the last eight. Meanwhile, Kerry will have beaten two Division 2 teams.
But back to my opposition to ending the GAA inter-county season before the end of July. While the GAA are withdrawing their top product from the shop window on July 24 our main competitors are extending their seasons.
The Home Nations rugby teams are heading to the southern hemisphere during the summer. And the Republic of Ireland soccer team has four Nations League games in June and two more in September.
Writing about September reminds me of another significant disadvantage of the split season. Reflecting on my decades spent as a secondary-school teacher, I know how important September was in promoting Gaelic games with second-level students.
The All-Ireland finals in hurling and football occupied centre stage; there were no distractions from other sports.
It was an invaluable recruitment tool for the GAA, and it was absolutely free. There were enough teachers in virtually every school in the country with a connection or involvement with the GAA to facilitate the kids’ interest in the two big games.
Obviously, for the four counties who were involved in the finals it was manna from heaven for the schools – I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I suggest that it was the one month of the year when what happened in the GAA touched virtually every second-level school in Ireland.
But with the All-Ireland finals now scheduled for July we have lost that golden opportunity as all the secondary schools are on their summer holidays.
The GAA’s split season has happened because a false narrative was created around the fate of club players.
Some would have us believe they are about to suffer the same fate as the dodo.
The reality is altogether different. Take my native Kerry, for example.
During the inter-county season club players have an opportunity to play in 11 county league games. Kerry boss O’Connor has released some county players for some of these games.
Once Kerry’s interest in the All-Ireland series is over all players will be involved in the Club Championship followed by the County Championship. It is a full-on programme.
There is no shortage of games and the notion that the club player is somehow being neglected is fake news.
I bet that in many counties there will be no club games played in July, August and September.
Essentially, the county/club split experiment has been a flop.
Worse still, it will damage the GAA product in the long term if the association does not come to its senses.
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