So picture the scene. You’re an Offaly football fan waking up on Sunday morning to make the long trek of 3 and a half hours to Derry for the counties’ division 3 National League game. While other games in the North have been called off due to the inclement climate, you hear at 10am that the game has been deemed fit to play, so you head off on your merry way, driving through the snow. Then eventually you arrive into Celtic Park at 12.45 only to be informed that, actually, the game has indeed been called off, just a few minutes ago. So how do you feel then? Well, not too good obviously.
That’s the problem that Offaly News and Sport reporter Ben Kilmurray, as well as many other Offaly fans, faced last Sunday morning and it left him fuming. Now there are some extentuating circumstances that need to be mentioned in such a scenario. Obviously no one in the GAA is responsible for the snow picking up so much, but given the forecast and the obvious hazardous conditions that drivers were facing on their way to Celtic Park, you could argue that the game should have been called off much earlier.
If this was just a one off event that occurred on Sunday for the GAA you would have more sympathy for the organization. The problem is that this isn’t the first time it’s happened. The Offaly game was one of four national league games postponed at the weekend and there were another 7 leagues games cancelled in the Ladies National football league. There were further widespread cancellation of games on the weekends of January 7th and January 21st.
So what’s the solution? Well obviously quicker cancellations are an option. Perhaps the Offaly game was an aberration but it has happened on numerous occasions that the forecast was terrible for a fixture but the game wasn’t called off until shortly before throw in. Or in the case of Monaghan and Donegal in the McKenna cup a few weeks ago, the game was called off 7 minutes after throw in.
Other avenues for games to go ahead also need to be looked at. Is there enough money in the GAA to have underground heating on pitches? You would think, in Croke Park at least, there would be. Maybe in another few provincial venues there would be too, if the GAA could organize the revenue for it. Or is there anything to be gained from having all weather pitches?
But perhaps the biggest problem concerning fixture cancellation is the sheer volume of games in the first place. Is it really necessary to still be playing pre-season inter-county games in January when sides have at least 10 (and in some cases 15 or more) other games in the rest of the season. And when we’re trying to fit the clubs, underage teams, and the university teams into the set up, it just complicates matters still further.
We seem to be having a particularly harsh January and February this year, but that’s not to say these months are ever the ideal times for gaelic games activity in the first place. And with extra cancellations, comes increasingly complicated fixture congestion. For instance, the Meath Westmeath O’Byrne Cup final, which has been due to be played since January, is now fixed for the 11th of March. You could argue that there wasn’t point in this competition to begin with, but when it’s dragged out a month and a half after it’s initial finalized date, you really do have to doubt the legitimacy of it.
Hopefully we’ve seen the worst of the unsavoury weather this year and we won’t have to worry further about cancellations down the line. But in the meantime, the people who make such decisions need to heed the weather warnings, and have consideration for fans when calling off games, the earlier the better. Meanwhile, Offaly fans are making the trip north again this Sunday to try and dance in Derry again. If nothing else, it should be a more enjoyable trip than last Sunday. Just so long as they get to see a game.