It wouldn't be fair on Cork footballers to rush through a knockout championship

It wouldn't be fair on Cork footballers to rush through a knockout championship
Cork's Sean Powter beats Derry's Danny Tallon and lays off the ball for John O'Rourke's goal in the league this season. The Rebels deserve at least too games if the championship does take place. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

IN the absence of current sport to entertain, the tendency has been to immerse ourselves in nostalgia.

Old games, old competitions, old players — lots of it absolutely wonderful, some of it not so much.

For those developing some kind of false sure-what-was-so-bad-anyway feeling about running knockout championships to complete the 2020 schedule, we might do well to have a think back to the mid-to-late 90s and that period generally where it became obvious that counties couldn’t continue to play one championship game a season for the sort of training time being given.

Cork, in particular, let’s remember were one pretty high-profile example used as a damning argument for the futility of team training from September one year to early summer the next only to play one important game.

There was Larry Tompkins’ famous training schedule for the 1996/97 season — 185 days together from 270, many spent chasing up the hill in Macroom or pounding the dunes in Inchydoney — and all Cork people can recall from that season now is Martin Daly’s late winner up in Ennis, knocking Cork out of championship on June 22, 1997 after nine months of torture.

Will many remember now that Cork had reached the league final against Kerry a month earlier? We had to search for highlights on Youtube this week to jog the memory and actually couldn’t get over the crowd in the Páirc that evening — 28,795 with terraces and stands heaving. 

But ask any Cork player from that squad and 1997 had no redeeming feature.

Anyway, Cork went out the following year and after another heavy build-up, lost down in Killarney again to some Maurice Fitz magic the first weekend of July.

Imagine, two years of savage work and physical toll for two championship games.

Former Cork manager Larry Tompkins with his players before a challenge game. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Former Cork manager Larry Tompkins with his players before a challenge game. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

It wasn’t sustainable then, hence the qualifiers and eventually these group stage quarter-finals.

Which is why the reasons it stopped in the first place ought to be recalled, that this current odd excitable push backwards towards some form of knockout championship seems to be the entirely wrong answer to the wrong question.

Ok, we get there’s any number of unknowns here and there is something annoying both with the rush to look for a definite quick decision on structures when really nobody can be sure and the agenda to write off talk of any games this year as naive silliness.

Current circumstances may well dictate on timing available to play games and this may be the only option in the end.

But cancelling the inter-county season completely or deliberately condensing it into some traditional ideal to teach it a lesson seems off.

One, inter-county players want games, more games, not less games — from talking to players the more games they can get the better and there won’t be many complaints of burnout or long seasons for one year at least.

Cork have been training for some time under Kevin Smith and Cian O’Neill, all those individual programmes and gym work and recovery sessions and group trainings and games and it doesn’t really bear thinking about that the entire body of work done in the winter/spring might come down to one game, potentially, yes with Kerry.

Let’s ignore even for now that the league will possibly be voided which doesn’t seem correct either, in the same way that any writing off of a season in the Premier League would be so, so harsh on Liverpool.

Players like Sean Powter and Sam Ryan and Brian Hurley have done and continue to do an awful lot of work behind the scenes to come back from injury and cutting their payback to one game or no games seems cruel.

Supporters want games to go to as well and suddenly the trudge through traffic in Thurles or Killarney seems a small price to pay to see live GAA action at the highest level.

An additional note or two here.

The point has already been made that elite soccer clubs can’t be expected to just pile straight back into a series of massive games and be expected to be at the same level of fitness and sharpness; that sidenote applies for football and hurling players as well, where eagerness might overtake aptitude for some time.

Two, squeezing games in once players are up to speed might only need some imagination.

Midweek and Friday nights are fair game surely. Lead-in times might fall away between matches but that needn’t be a bad thing.

A championship that often seems to drag on can be played off far more efficiently timewise, with the dead time between games more important to cut than the games themselves.

There are financial issues as well and again, with massive Premier League and European clubs desperately trying to not call off the season for fear of the implications and talking of cutting wages to staff and players, you can bet that fewer games at inter-county and/or club level will have all sorts of impact on GAA finances.

Cork GAA is already in a tough situation with cash losses and debt.

Less inter-county games mean lower gate receipts from championship action to filter down and less cash in the big pot at Croke Park means less monies to flow into the counties through grants, etc.

Sponsorship needs airtime to be viable.

It’s hardly a priority for anyone right now, but the practicalities of calling for a summer with fewer games as a good thing while a lot of the costs remain might well cause longer-term pain for counties already scrambling for funds.

Hey, if anything, try and imagine the interest levels and crowds around the first few games that can be put together in the 2020 calendar.

Right now it feels like we’d get full houses for every game and that as well as needing games more than ever, we need more games than ever, not less.

Going back to the old days isn’t always a good thing.

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