New Cork format will work a treat but we shouldn't always pitch GAA as a club versus county battle

New Cork format will work a treat but we shouldn't always pitch GAA as a club versus county battle

Blarney's Stephen O'Donoghue shoots from Cappataggle's Damien Joyce during an All-Ireland intermediate final. Those competitions are off this year. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

THE CORK County Board gets more than its fair share of stick but they deserve credit for the way they've structured the club championships this season.

They opted to persevere with the proposed round-robin, which guarantees players three meaningful matches each, and six for the dual operators. That's before the knockout stages.

The time-frame to rattle through the championship is tight but the easy option would have been to revert to a backdoor system. This is more substantial and worthwhile. 
Alright, there are six rounds of hurling and football across seven weekends, which places a demand on players, but the key will be a sensible approach to training and recovery. Running lads into the ground over the coming weeks will lead to a spate of injuries.

With county finals fixed for October 2-4, and a week later if there are players or clubs who reach two, it will be an epic flurry of activity.

Beyond that, we've the All-Ireland championships to look forward to. Despite the current trend for pitting club and county against each other, it's perfectly acceptable to have a grá for both.

Sure, nothing tops your club climbing the steps at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, but watching your county lift a trophy is incredible too. Ballincollig's 2014 breakthrough at senior was sensational, a memory to cherish forever but inter-county games can be emotional as well. 

If you were in Portlaoise last year for the U20 All-Ireland football final and didn't feel the passion rise up as Keith Ricken's side were raucously cheered into the dressing room — on their way to coming from nine points down to win by eight — you must have a heart of stone. The connection between the Cork faithful and the young players and their management was raw and real.

While the influence of club mentors and school coaches on kids from five upwards as they progress through the ranks shouldn't be underestimated, their idols are inevitably county hurlers and footballers. They might be lucky enough to see their club win a county or even have inter-county aces in the ranks, the impact of high-profile players is seismic.

Cork fan favourite Anthony Nash.
Cork fan favourite Anthony Nash.

 

Patrick Horgan, Anthony Nash, Brian Hurley and Luke Connolly are heroes the new recruits seem to emulate. When they're messing around, learning the basics out their back garden or against the wall, they pretend to be like Joe Canning, Cian Lynch or David Clifford.

Of course for the coming months, the club takes centre-stage, at the height of summer as well. Crowds will be limited to less than 500, including those involved with the teams and the refs, so there won't be a huge pile of games to go to.

But kids will have club games from around the country on TV and streamed matches from the local championships to watch regardless.

The quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals should be crackers this season, coming after the group stages which will have sharpen up teams, plus they'll have their top players on board. That's not to be naive enough to suggest Cork hurlers and footballers won't slip behind closed doors getting ready for the winter All-Ireland.

Officially no one can train until September 14 but that won't stop them. Hopefully, and again from an injury perspective, club management teams can find a way to get the most out of their stars without driving them into the ground before the last weekend of July.

Unfortunately though understandably, there isn't a programme in place for U21 club hurlers and footballers for now. With minor hurling and football and U20 hurling series coming up from October, there is no point in firing up championships until all the players are available.

The junior county will also go on hold at the semi-finals if those involved Cork players, which isn't ideal either. That's only an option because there are no Munster or All-Ireland club championships in 2020.

Cork has an excellent record in the junior and intermediate hurling grades, so it's a great pity the champions this October won't get their shot at glory in Croker.

Regardless, there are going to be some sizzling showdowns from July 26. The next question is how do we cover the 26 games per weekend for the group stages!

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