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Conor Lehane of Cork scores a point in a league game against Westmeath. A regular league game but the type we're all missing now the season is on hold. Picture: INPHO/Brian Reilly-Troy
Conor Lehane of Cork scores a point in a league game against Westmeath. A regular league game but the type we're all missing now the season is on hold. Picture: INPHO/Brian Reilly-Troy
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The Tony Considine column: This is a chance to experiment with an open draw instead of the provincial championships

USUALLY, when writing at this time of the year we are approaching the end stages of the League.

As everyone knows we are in strange times.

And stranger they are getting. But accept them we must.

The GAA have faced many obstacles over the years, both from inside and outside the organisation.

Many debates have taken place, many arguments, even heated arguments, about rules, and non-rules, hurleys, sliotars, referees, helmets, umpires, linesmen, the opening of Croke Park to other games, rows between managers and players, rows over sponsorship, short whistles, long whistles, sending offs or not. 

And while all seemed important at the time, I don’t ever remember the games being stopped totally, completely, banned — from underage right up to senior — no training allowed collectively full stop.

What a loss this is to every community in the country. And a bigger loss to the people who play the games, and the supporters who follow them religiously.

What a void in their lives. I’m especially thinking at this point in time of the dedicated club man and woman, who sees nothing but the club and lives for it.

The one that lines the field and puts up the nets, and takes them down again, cleans the dressing rooms, looks after the kit, and opens and locks the gates, going around the parish selling the Lotto, maybe a couple of nights a week.

There is a club in every parish so that adds up to a lot of very sad disappointed people, not to mention all the ‘old boys’ who wander in to watch training, rolling back the years to when they were part of all that themselves, and observing the new talent coming up, or more importantly giving their opinion on who was going to make it or not, reminiscing about their fathers or grandfathers before them.

That’s all gone for now — a very important pass time missing for them.

The government have laid down the rules and the GAA like everyone else must comply. When everything gets back to normal, if it does, it will pose a lot of problems for the GAA.

Locked gates at a GAA stadium. Hopefully games will resume quickly.
Locked gates at a GAA stadium. Hopefully games will resume quickly.

But right now I’d say they wouldn’t mind having that problem. If and when they get the go-ahead, I think the GAA should look at the club scene first.

I know the county scene is very important from a financial point of view, but from a community point of view, club should be first.

As I have outlined above, more people are affected by the club scene, more volunteers, more families and so on.

I think the county will go back to a knock out championship now. This stands to reason in light of what has happened and the time frame left.

Obviously, they will have to restructure the draws in the provincial championships and there should be no All-Ireland quarter-finals — semi-finals only.

That would free up a weekend. The GAA would loose financially but I think in the circumstances this would be the right thing to do.

They can make it up another year. (I’m sure they are working on it already).

Or — would it be a time to experiment with an open draw and forget about the Provincial Championship for this year?

I know a lot of people might not like that idea, especially the provincial councils, but these are different times.

As the provincial championships have lost their appeal anyway, maybe this would be an ideal opportunity to try out the open draw.

I think it would add great excitement to the hurling year, or what is left of it.

UCC's Michael O'Halloran scores a goal past Anthony Nash and Colm Spillane during the Canon O'Brien Cup last January. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
UCC's Michael O'Halloran scores a goal past Anthony Nash and Colm Spillane during the Canon O'Brien Cup last January. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

In my opinion, it would be something completely new and I believe there would be an appetite for this from the supporters too.

I think it would bring a bit of bite back into the championship. I think this is the year to trial this.

Imagine Tipperary and Kilkenny meeting in the first round of an open draw?

And the winner takes all. Cork and Galway, Limerick and Wexford, or any mix you like... what crowds would turn up to see games like that, knowing its do or die, no safely net.

I’m getting excited about it already! I hope someone in the GAA doesn’t mind doing it.

I’m sure managers and players would love it too. I believe the GAA has nothing to lose by trying it out this year.

I think it would take strong leadership to do this, but that’s what strong leadership is all about. I don’t think they will ever get a better chance or reason like they have now, to try this.

I know when the sports editor asked me to write this column like he has asked every year, I’m sure he didn’t think I would be writing something like this.

I know I have been critical of hurling in the past when it deserved to be, and not so long ago I said the League reminded me of glorified challenge matches, I must say I would gladly enjoy watching those matches now.

Hurling has a special place for us all — it's in our DNA — It was passed on to us from generations gone by. This is why it is such a big loss to us right now.

But hurling must take a back seat now, as we have more serious matters to think about in eliminating this virus that has hit our beloved country — the Coronavirus.

Best of luck to everyone, and thanks again to all the front line people taking care of us. Hopefully, we will have a great hurling year yet.

God knows we will need something to uplift us again and get us over this very difficult time. Health is wealth.