Jamie Wall: Health is more important than GAA competitions right now

Mary I coach understands how hard calls had to be made about Fitzgibbon Cup
Jamie Wall: Health is more important than GAA competitions right now

Aaron Gillane of Mary Immaculate College celebrates with Mary Immaculate College manager Jamie Wall following the 2019 Electric Ireland Fitzgibbon Cup semi-final. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

WHILE Jamie Wall would be in favour of a system whereby final-year students in the current academic year could feature in next season’s intervarsity GAA competitions, he has fears about the logistics of such a solution.

Last week, it was announced that the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups will not be taking place before the end of the current college year. Wall, who guided Limerick’s Mary Immaculate College to the 2017 Fitzgibbon title and 2019 final, accepts that such a call had to be made but would like for the players missing out to have the opportunity to play eventually.

In 2020, the NCAA – the body which governs college sport in the USA – cancelled all events when Covid-19 first spread but final-year students were given the option of competing in the 2020-21 college year. Wall wouldn’t be against such a move here, but feels that there could be practical obstacles.

“It’d be a lovely idea,” he says, “but it is just an idea.

“I would be tentatively in favour but then you’re opening up a Pandora’s box in that some colleges would get fellas back and others wouldn’t.

“Then, you have the fact that the guys in the Fitzgibbon and Sigerson and the girls in the Ashbourne and O’Connor Cups are likely to be employed next year and their employers mightn’t be too keen on them taking time off to play.

“College sport in America is a slightly bigger industry to here. 

I was at a Miami Hurricanes game a few years ago when I was over there – a 50,000-seater stadium and a full car park, people tailgating beforehand. I was saying to myself, ‘This isn’t the Fitzgibbon Cup here!’

“For guys in their final year, it would be a lovely idea because a lot of them have a strong affinity to their college. It is the one area where, if you want to play, you play and if you don’t want to play, you don’t. At club and inter-county, there is a sense of obligation alongside pride and representation and things like that.

“That intrinsic pressure isn’t there with colleges GAA, so you know that everyone who’s playing is doing so because they want to.”

UCC Sigerson Cup winning captain Cian Kiely in action. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
UCC Sigerson Cup winning captain Cian Kiely in action. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Kilbrittain man Wall – a third-year student in UL but currently on work placement with legal firm Ronan Daly Jermyn in Cork – understands why the decision was made not to go ahead with the competitions.

“Obviously, it’s very disappointing but it’s not surprising,” he says.

“Realistically, with numbers the way they are, you couldn’t stand over bringing guys from all over the country into one camp and then sending them back out around the country. Of all the competitions in the GAA, it’s, unfortunately, the least suited to surviving in the current climate. 

"I have no complaints – we all have to make sacrifices and this is no different. Right now, the numbers are so high that it’s not safe to run any competitions. Sport in general is, rightly, down the pecking order.

“While they are important competitions going forward, what’s more important right now is people’s health. Please God, we’ll be back in October either with league or some other creative solution.

“We’ll keep the fingers crossed and keep the good side out and hope that things are back closer to normal in the next academic year.”

As well as Mary I, Wall is in charge of the Kilbrittain intermediate hurling team. Last year, they reached the semi-finals of the county lower intermediate championship but, right now – with club action slated for late summer, after the inter-county season – things are quiet.

From any sort of club perspective, the most important thing at the moment is the lads’, and their families’, health,” he says.

“We don’t know enough about the virus in terms of how it affects people. We’ve seen Premier League players take time to get back up to speed so when you have amateur players, it’s something you have to be wary of.

"We’re obviously not doing anything collectively but we have a very good strength and conditioning coach, Mikey Kearney, who has given the lads workouts they can do at home with the minimum of equipment and runs around the locality.

"While we’re all limiting our contacts, it’s important to bear in mind that we need exercise for the physical and mental benefits. It has to be done smartly and individually for the time being, but it is important.”

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