AS the details of club and inter-county championships drifted out over the last few weeks and the issues about club and county battles became louder, another issue of possible conflict was sort of lost in the noise.
It came to Cork manager Ronan McCarthy to comment on the differing treatment in the football and hurling championships, one knockout and the other with a backdoor.
He acknowledged the difficulty with scheduling more than one game (impossible certainly in the provincial system) in the time allowed, but he pointed out a broader pattern where he had the feeling that football was being treated as the lesser game in Croke Park and beyond, mentioning the league systems, U20 championships, access to players and so on.
It hardly qualified as a rant of any sort and still it got across the idea that there are plenty ideal GAA calendars at club and county level that are perfect in many ways apart from the obvious hurdle — the existence of the two sports that both need time and games and nurturing.
This works both ways of course.
Football fans will say they feel like an afterthought at times. Hurling supporters will point to the lack of the game in huge parts of the country and say it’s more focus it should be getting.
Everyone wants to fight their own corners here. It’s not a very pretty fight to be picking but it’s there alright.
At club level, we’ve already said it’s going to be awfully tough for dual clubs at a high level to compete properly week on week at both codes, just in relation to preparation time with players and in being at the necessary energy and focus level for the bigger challenges.
Clubs and players might pick and choose a little depending on form and circumstance and it’s hard to see something happening where even a club might reach a county final in senior at one code and intermediate in the other having to play week after week.
At inter-county level, games will be competing for exposure time, for TV showings and buzz. Even Donal Óg Cusack has called out the football analysts for the negativity in analysing the games and there’s definitely a noted tone change between the hurling where every game is a classic of a golden era and football where the moans start early on and often bear little relation to the game itself.
Neither competition will quite have the chance to build momentum from epic games through qualifiers or super eights so the feeling around the games that do take place will be key.
Is football more likely to experience a little kick in energy by being knockout, more than hurling where everything has that sense of all or nothing already anyway?
In the last few years, there have been very clear periods where hurling and football have their own dominant periods of weeks of big games at a time with all the lead-ins, previews, analysis, and focus that brings and it’ll be interesting to see the dynamic of a winter championship with both happening so close together.
There can be classic hurling and football summers together. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s space for both in a short winter.
It’s fair to say things haven’t always been equal in Cork and still aren’t seen to be in a lot of ways.
In Adrian Russell’s book The Double, there’s a quote from hurler Sean O’Gorman that if the footballers were given chicken for food after training, that the hurlers would be given steak.
This was coming directly from both camps by the way, basically seen as just the way things were in the 1980s-90s.
Plenty of people who’ve worked in Cork football at generally any time since then can talk of this feeling of inferiority, that the football group was seen by the board, the public (and often the players themselves) as a level or two below the hurlers and that they could be treated as such.
Access to pitches or resources always seemed lacking in comparison. One member of a senior management team in recent years spoke of what almost felt like an active campaign to deny the footballers in comparison to the help given to the hurlers.
When Cork footballers couldn’t get into the Pairc to train before the Munster final a few years back, the rumours went that the hurlers were allowed in — it wasn’t true, but the fact it was believed possible said a lot within the group.
That it’s also been considered a reasonable viewpoint at times says a lot too. In The Revolution Years by Denis Walsh, a chapter on the Cork GAA strike has quotes from a player at the time that criticised the mentality and attitude of the footballers compared to the hurlers at the time.
That was Ronan McCarthy by the way. It’s not the case any longer of football being ignored — the football plan put together and the work being done by Conor Counihan and plenty other football people behind the scenes in Cork tells a lot on that.
There’s convincing to be done in clubs still that might not always see the benefits of pushing the big ball so much. And there’s convincing to be done with the public, as anyone who’s been at a league double-header and seen the fans filter at the end of the football game can testify.
Cork faces this challenge more than any other county, to try to be as relevant as possible in both and there tends to be this feeling that football has to fight a little harder to make itself legit.
Ronan McCarthy’s side might have one game in November that a lot of Cork supporters will see as defining a season that started almost 12 months earlier and there’s hardly a doubt that the suffering inflicted by Kerry has been a factor in the football as second rate here.
He knows Cork football needs to find and make a space for itself more than ever now when we’re trying to cram a season of action into a few months.