Éamonn Murphy on five major issues as Cork GAA gets set to return

Éamonn Murphy on five major issues as Cork GAA gets set to return
Conor Dorris of Glen Rovers under pressure from Mark Harrington of Douglas in a clash at Páirc Uí Rinn. Picture: Cathal Noonan

THE GAA is back in Cork this week, with adult teams returning to training this Wednesday and full-contact for all ages from next Monday. 

Here we look at the five major issues that need to be solved on Leeside.

1. THE CLUB CHAMPIONSHIPS: Undoubtedly the most complicated championships to organise every year are those in Rebel county.

Dual players, the presence of divisions and colleges and the fact the various inter-county teams at minor, U20/U21 and senior have fixtures deep into the summer most years, causes various complications.

This season, the biggest overhaul in the modern era was on the cards. Group stages were going to guarantee the intermediate and senior teams three games each, while the introduction of additional tiers was going to provide more meaningful action.

Sensibly, the Cork County Board hasn't revealed their final plan for 2020 yet, deferring the announcement until after the inter-county masterplan comes out this week.

They've their work cut out, even with the option of starting from July 17 to October 11. 

Imokilly's hurlers are in pursuit of four titles in a row and the Duhallow footballers were runners-up in 2018 and '19. Divisions and colleges battling clubs is a tradition on Leeside and not one the board will want to sunder. 

Yet how can they be facilitated while still allowing room for the inter-county teams to start preparing from September 14? 

Is there really room for group stages instead of a more familiar backdoor system?

All will be revealed soon.

2. CLUB VERSUS COUNTY: It was reported in the Irish Examiner at the weekend that the Cork hurlers had already expressed their concerns to the board about how they'll prepare for the delayed inter-county season if the club championships run into late September.

Numerous managers nationally have already bemoaned their lack of time due to the club window to prepare for the provincial and All-Ireland series, especially if there's a straight knockout brought in.

The average club member just wants to make the most of this unique scenario but you can understand too which those focused on inter-county success want to put their best foot forward too.

Luke Connolly will be in demand with Nemo and Cork in September.
Luke Connolly will be in demand with Nemo and Cork in September.

3. UNDERAGE FIXTURES: Rebel Óg, which runs the league and championships from U12 to minor, contacted clubs with a proposal that only the U12, U14, U16 and minor grades would go ahead this season. Those streamlined competitions, offering three hurling and football league games from U12 to U16 and championship at minor, would have to be wrapped up by October.

That move would mean culling the U13 and U15 grades completely and not providing fixtures at C3 level either, the tier introduced specifically to provide on-the-age matches for all in bigger clubs.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a backlash, from parents, coaches and officers to this news. Many clubs in Cork operate with two teams at all the ages from U12 to minor; Rebel Óg was, therefore, offering activity for just four groups out of 12 in those cases.

In the circumstances and even allowing for the weather come October, most squads would be willing to play into November to get some hurling and football action. They could also slip fixtures in from mid-July now that full contact is allowed.

Of course, there would be issues with pitch space, referees and running across other sports come September, but needs must. And there would still be room to shut underage GAA in early December until late February before cranking back into gear for 2021.

Glanmire's Tommey Lonergan shoots from Mallow's Kevin O'Mahony in last year's P2 MFC final. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Glanmire's Tommey Lonergan shoots from Mallow's Kevin O'Mahony in last year's P2 MFC final. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The current indications are that the Rebel Óg schedule will be amended after clubs submit their responses by Wednesday.

From U11 downwards, instead of the usual Monster Blitz or non-competitive league format, clubs will be put into groups with their local rivals for three hurling and three football matches to be run from early September into October.

Clubs will no doubt top up that calendar with in-house blitzes and challenge games for those youngsters, where fun is the priority.

4. CÚL CAMPS: When it was revealed early in June that the annual national GAA camps for U6s to U13s would go ahead, many were surprised.

Bishopstown recently called off their Cúl Camp. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Bishopstown recently called off their Cúl Camp. Picture: Howard Crowdy

Indeed, the majority of Cúl Camps in Cork were cancelled due to the multiple restrictions in place, the limit on numbers and the responsibility that would be foisted on the teenage coaches that help out each year.

Now that full-contact games and training were given the all-clear from June 29, are some GAA clubs regretting that decision? While the week-long camps aren't hugely lucrative due to being organised from a central base, staffing costs and so on, they are still a source of revenue for cash-strapped clubs.

5. U21 COMPETITIONS: Last season, the U21 hurling and football ended up being a real mess. With a backdoor and the fact many young players were also busy for their senior teams, they dragged through the winter.

A host of games were run off on the astro at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, not a hospitable spot on a cold day. Finals were held in December and January and a new approach was required.

St Michael's celebrate their U21 football win last January. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
St Michael's celebrate their U21 football win last January. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The aim was to get going earlier this time, but with inter-county only starting in October, good luck with that.

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