CALL us crazy – and people have done so, and worse, if you can believe that – but we actually quite like January.
Obviously, there is the personal sense of detoxification after the excesses of Christmas but from a GAA point of view, there is a feeling of renewal after the quiet of December.
Having had their period of abstinence, people are ready to go to games again – witness the attendances at Cork’s two Munster SHL outings – as they begin to form opinions of what lies ahead.
It should go without saying that it’s often the case that little can be extrapolated from these games. We certainly recall a few players shooting the lights out in pre-season only to fail to feature in the league or championship, but it’s the time for experimentation and management shouldn’t be criticised for trying out guys they feel are worth a go.
Results don’t really matter too much – the Cork hurlers lost all three Munster SHL games last year and won the provincial title, while the footballers won the McGrath Cup but didn’t have an enjoyable championship. The main thing is that the on-pitch action is back and there is somewhere to go after gorging on films and chocolate for the previous few weeks.
Of course, below the inter-county scene, January means a return to training for club sides, most often gruelling running sessions as winter enjoyment is sweated out.
“Who’s managing ye this year?” is often a question when players from rival clubs encounter each other around the festive period, with the merry-go-round leading to changes on a more rapid scale, though thankfully not yet at the same rate as in professional football.
Away from the clubs and counties though, January means serious business rather than just getting ready for a busy summer.
The Dr Harty Cup and Corn Uí Mhuirí secondary-schools competitions, which began in October, move into the knockout stages, while the third-level Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cups kick off, with the various college and university sides having used the leagues to tune up in the autumn.
More often than not, these games provide excitement, with the focus on positive play rather than handpass fests with sweepers blocking the lanes. While it’s not a viable option for many who work 9-5, Monday-Friday, a trip down the Mardyke for a game on a crisp January midweek afternoon is one of life’s little pleasures.
In recent times, CIT have opted to hold home games at night-time in their superb stadium and that’s good from a point of view of generating a greater attendance. However, the promotion of these games by the GAA itself leaves a bit to be desired. If you go on to the official website, gaa.ie, and navigate to third-level fixtures, you’re taken to the last week of January in 2018, while the @HigherEdGAA Twitter account last posted a month ago.
At this time of year, the activity should be at its highest in order to draw attention, especially when, as we’ve said above, the inter-county preseason competitions aren’t far above training sessions.
In the secondary-school competitions, like the adult grades, a Cork victory is long overdue. You have to go back to 2006 and a Paudie O’Sullivan-captained Midleton CBS side for the last Harty victory and, while Coláiste Chríost Rí’s Corn Uí Mhuirí title of 2011 is more recent, since 2015 the final of the competition has been a Cork-free zone.
The Harty quarter-finals take place tomorrow, with Christian Brothers College, St Colman’s of Fermoy and Midleton in the mix.
Then, in eight days’ time, the Corn Uí Mhuirí last eight features four Cork sides – the good news is that there will definitely be two in the semi-finals but the bad news is that two will be eliminated in the quarters.
St Francis College, Rochestown – the last Cork school to reach the final – clash with Ballincollig’s Coláiste Choilm, while there is an all-West Cork clash between Clonakilty Community College and Hamilton High School.
It’s all nicely poised indeed. Here’s to 2019.