GAA should prioritize club activity when games start back up again

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So Easter weekend then yeah? Anyone got any plans? A few Easter eggs maybe? That would be good. You might take a trip back home to see the folks perhaps, or maybe go to the holiday home down in Wexford or Clare. Perhaps you might even take in a game or go to mass or….ah, holy god no….

Life has changed so much in the last month that it’s hard to even credit we used to do these things, and travel freely, without any sense of foreboding whatsoever. But do you remember the last time you went to a game? Do you remember mass? Do you remember the pre-historic days, the years BC (before Corona)?

Time is but an illusion now. We’ve had 4 weeks of lockdown, but in ways it’s felt like 4 years. The government announced another 3 weeks of strict measures on Friday, but it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility, in fact, it’s probable, that the restrictions may be in place for closer to 3 months. So for those who’ve enjoyed the last month of confinement and reflection-great-there’s no need for you to come out of your cocoon just yet. For those who feel as if they have been kept in captivity, now is most assuredly not the time to break ranks.

Amidst the overwhelming sea of doom and gloom though, there is some good news. One day, in the not TOO (that’s the operative word here) distant future, we’ll have our freedom back. One day we’ll be able to get into our car, travel to a match in Thurles or Croke Park or anywhere else, and there will be big crowds and a massive sense of anticipation. One day, we’ll be a nation once again.

Now, at this stage, it seems obvious that whatever hope there was of having a senior inter-county championship, as was laid out when the draw was made last October, has been lost. The idea of having a hurling round robin, or a footballing back door, or the Super 8’s, or any of those other elaborate plans, seem so far fetched as to be laughable. It would appear, as of this moment, that most GAA fans have made their peace with that.

So April and May look to be write offs as regards GAA activity and June doesn’t seem too promising either. July may, and again, may is the operative word, be the most likely time  for games to return to our fields and screens, and the idea of a short, condensed inter-county championship actually looks a very appealing one. But if the lockdown extends into August, and even possibly beyond that, then stark decisions will have to be made. Indeed, the age old conundrum of the association may be about to rear its ugly head again.

Club or county? That’s been the burning question of our times. Well, why have one or the other, when you can have both? Yeah, that’s what people said about the dual player quandry for a long time. Now the idea of Teddy McCarthy, Sean Og O’Hailpin, or whoever else, pitching up to play football and hurling one week after the other is as outdated a notion as someone playing a Commodore 64. So while technically, obviously, both the club and county season can exist in harmony, in reality, there is a bone grinding friction between the two. That is always going to be present until the GAA gives very clear instructions about when both seasons take place. And come later on in the year, or whenever games do start up again, it will very likely be a case that one of the two will have to take priority.

So some tough decisions have to be made. Do we need to salvage the 2020 inter-county championship or club championship first? Will this year’s leagues, particularly the football one, be scrapped without any satisfactory conclusion to them? Will the calendar have to be completely overhauled and reassessed to take into account the changes that have been made to society in general?

In a sense, a revamp of the calendar is perhaps the most pertinent issue in all of this. For years, the various stakeholders have complained of the formatting of the year, but with the relentless nature of the schedule, we rarely, if ever, had any time to overhaul the timing of competitions. Well, if nothing else, we have time for plotting and planning now.

So some hard questions need to be asked. For example, do we really need to have the pre-season inter-county competitions such as the Walsh and Dr McKenna Cup played in January, when there is club and University competitions going on? Is the club only month in April a help or hindrance, considering it takes place so close to crucial inter-county games? And do we need to finish the inter-county season even earlier still (say early or mid August) to allow even more time for club players to perform between then and the end of the season?

Now, there are any amount of factors that will come into play when making these decisions, and, as so often is the case in the GAA, the financial implications will invariably be one of them. You cannot dismiss that, and if the organization is placed in a precarious  economic position, like many other businesses will be during this period, then some high profile inter-county games would be a much needed influx of cash. But that cannot be the overriding concern when making a decision.

For my mind, if the lockdown carries on until August, and the choice has to be between playing either the club or county championship come that time, then the club championship must take precedence. Yes, I’m acutely aware that the inter-county game provides the bulk of the revenue for the association, but the club game is where the majority of GAA members, the vast majority in fact, pay their dues and dedicate most of their attention to. If the GAA is going to blithely ignore the wishes of the vast majority of its members, it risks disenfranchising and losing them from now on.

Now hopefully, it won’t come to this. Ideally, come June or July, everything will be back up and running again and we’ll have an exceptionally exciting inter-county championship to look forward to. But there are going to be some tough decisions coming down the track for the organization and, for their own sake, it’s essential they make the right ones.