PRE-SEASON competitions, have they really got a future anymore?
That question has to be posed after recent events across the country in both hurling and Gaelic football.
Firstly, let’s look at the Munster Hurling League, the final which will be contested next Sunday between Limerick and Clare.
That fixture was meant to be a game in the round-robin structure of the competition but the results of the past two weekends have decreed that it would make no sense at all to play that game as both counties had already qualified for the final, a game that will now take place next Sunday in Limerick.
With only four teams entering the competition there was always the fear that would be the case and that at the on their side of matters you were going to get a dead-rubber of a game, something that has now materialised with the clash of Cork and Kerry next Sunday in Tralee.
Now, there’s every likelihood if that game goes ahead the return from the turnstiles may set a new low.
Tipperary were one of the teams who couldn’t be bothered entering the Munster League, regarding challenge games as being far more important, a case in point being their game with Dublin in Thurles last Saturday when they fielded a team that wasn’t too far away from their championship 15.
Waterford opted out of the Munster League as well, similar to Tipp, they put more store into challenge games and only last night they played Dublin in one of them.
Despite everything, the withdrawals from the Munster League in hurling and the McGrath Cup in football, the Munster Council have got lucky in so far as they have a potentially very good game on their hands in the Munster League final and the Cork-Clare football McGrath final might not be bad either.
It was obvious from the outset that both Limerick and Clare were putting more emphasis on the pre-season hurling competition this year, fielding strong teams and the fact that their paths will not collide in the national league group stages adds to next Sunday’s decider.
There certainly won’t be same amount of shadow boxing as there might have been if they were meeting again in the league a few weeks later.
Both counties too will have seen how Cork benefited from their win in it last season and now they hope that it might be the same for them.
Kery have taken two fair hammerings from both finalists and it’s hard to see how next Sunday’s game with Cork is going to be of any relevance to either side.
I suppose it gives the Cork management another opportunity to give their very young players a day out in the senior jersey and maybe, just maybe something good might come from it.
Moving on to the province of Leinster and the Walsh Cup. The results from last Sunday’s quarter-finals illustrated the folly of putting counties like Wicklow and Kildare up against Wexford and Kilkenny.
Now, the good hurling folk in both counties are trying their best to promote the game but surely there is a better way than being absolutely hammered.
There was a 39-point gap separating Wexford against Wicklow and there was 19 points between Kilkenny and Kildare.
Dublin, after playing two challenge games the day before, defeated Antrim by 11 points.
What purpose are these kinds of losses serving? None whatsoever and it’s high time that something was done about it.
With the NHL now starting much earlier this year, January 27th in Cork’s case against Kilkenny no county is going to be too bothered about the pre-season competitions.
Yes, Clare will want to beat Limerick next Sunday and vice-versa but a week later the game will be just a footnote on a very crowded national league page.
Cork fielded a much stronger team against Dublin on Saturday night than they did up in Ennis last Sunday and it was a similar story against UCC last night.
So really what you had from the Munster League this season was two counties not entering at all, one fielding very experimental teams and one more receiving very heavy beatings.
To be fair, in Cork’s two games in Mallow and in Ennis you had up to 1,500 people present and that’s good enough going for this time of the year.
The Co-Op Stores too deserve credit for their continuing sponsorship but with the new GAA season and its structure, it’s an uphill battle for now for a lot of these pre-season competitions, all the more so now in Ulster and Connacht after the football postponements of last Sunday