AFTER a spring where it seemed as if we might not have any live sport to enjoy in 2020, the county championships finally got going at the weekend.
You’d like to think that, after such a tortuous journey to get this far, everybody was focused on the bigger picture and we had wonderful, free-flowing games of football. You’d like to think that but, of course, barely was the first ball thrown in and we were back to the things we know and love – like players shouting “How long?!” at a referee when the opposition goalkeeper spent longer than four seconds over a kick-out.
Nature is healing, we are told as the old normal displaces the new normal, and it is indeed heartening how quickly people fall into their familiar routines. Our favourite line of the weekend came from a referee who was in the process of booking a corner-back.
“How is that even a foul?!” beseeched the number two.
“If you don’t know how that’s a foul, then you’re playing the wrong game,” was the pithy response.
Of course, there was much that was different. The limit of 200 people at each venue – not just 200 spectators, but encompassing players and officials, too – was the most noticeable one, while dressing rooms remained closed and halves were interrupted for water breaks.
Of course, some enterprising souls explored ways of getting around the ticketing situation. It brought to mind the tale of legendary Kerry footballer Mick O’Connell when he attended UCC.
At the time, the GAA’s infamous rule 27, known as ‘the Ban’, was in force. Instigated in 1905, it prevented a member of the association from participating in or spectating at a game of a ‘foreign sport’, or even going to social functions put on by such bodies.
O’Connell, a sporting ecumenist, used to walk up the hill by Sunday’s Well, giving him a perfect vantage point to observe soccer and rugby activity in the Mardyke below – while he was watching the matches, he wasn’t attending them, ensuring that the GAA’s vigilance committee couldn’t hold him in violation of the rule. Similarly, those in cherry-pickers outside the gates of venues are unlikely to face prosecution.
For us humble hacks, there was a bit of adaptation, too. The lack of match programmes lent a schools-game feel to the endeavour, having in some cases to scribble down the side called out by a mentor and getting the subs as they came on.
To be fair to the county board, a recommendation was issued to clubs that panels should be circulated on social media and some really took up the challenge, such as Aghabullogue, who put together a Sky Sports-like graphic showing the players’ pictures. Unfortunately, other clubs – including some at senior level – had a tumbleweed-like Twitter feed over the weekend.
Social media can be a scourge but used well it can be a true blessing. At inter-county level, Wexford lead the way in terms of being irreverent while also being informative. Take this randomly-plucked one from a Kilkenny game: “Jacko ends up the meat in a stripey sandwich, down injured as Matthew O'Hanlon comes in for Damien Reck. Drop of water and some smelling salts and Jacko is back to his feet.”
On the Cork scene, Nemo Rangers would appear to be the market-leader, showing that success on the field need not be at the expense of a sense of humour. On Friday night, a point from their game against Valley Rovers was greeted thus: “Luke [Connolly] point from about 40 yards, think he was going for goal though, the lunatic.”
We do appreciate that there are a number of jobs to be done on match-day and having a dedicated person on the tweets isn’t always easy to arrange, but when done properly it is a real asset for clubs.
That need for strong lines of communication is all the more important when fewer people are able to attend the games, though of course some clubs took the initiative in terms of streaming their matches. It’s not something that Michael Cusack and company would have considered in Hayes’ Hotel in November 1884, but it’s proof of how the GAA is able to move with the times.