John Horgan: GAA is the lifeblood of Irish sport and we're all missing it

John Horgan: GAA is the lifeblood of Irish sport and we're all missing it

Conor McGoldrick, Éire Óg, tackling David Scannell, Kiskeam, last year. Éire Óg still have two 2020 county finals to complete. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

IN normal circumstances, the sports desks of newspapers would be struggling to find space for GAA coverage.

The national leagues would be in full swing in both codes, four divisions in football and priority given to the top two in hurling, while also reporting on the lower divisions.

Monday’s coverage across the newspaper industry would have had GAA left, right, and centre of its content.

Things would have got off the ground in February, with the commencement of the league, while the concluding stages of the provincial and All-Ireland club championships in both codes would also receive quality coverage.

The various colleges competitions would also be covered and that’s the way it would be for most of the remainder of the year, with the county club championships dominating in the later months.

The GAA is the lifeblood of any newspaper and without it, there is a glaring omission.

Now, because of the ongoing health crisis, the coverage has to be limited and your morning paper, in particular the Monday edition, is missing those match reports that give you a greater insight into the games played the day before.

Now the coverage consists mainly of feature articles — some excellent — interviews, whatever controversy might be occurring, county board reports, and so on.

There is still ample GAA coverage, but we need the games to commence.

It looks very much like it will be May before games resume and while the likelihood is that they will be played behind closed doors, at least the show will be back on the road.

Before all of that, of course, the master fixtures list will have to be drafted, as will the championship formats, draws, and the national leagues.

As far as the provincial and All-Ireland championships go, the likelihood is that the status quo will prevail from last season, a straight knockout football championship with the beaten hurling counties in both provinces getting one more chance in the All-Ireland qualifiers.

In quite a few counties there is the added problem of concluding some of last season’s competitions and here on our own doorstep, there are quite a few of great magnitude.

That could create a huge headache, if there are inter-county players involved and the inter-county season gets the green light first.

Having Éire Óg involved in two major finals here on Leeside creates a problem in itself and giving that club ample time to play those games will have to be prioritised.

The pandemic and the ongoing uncertainty this past year have been a massive challenge for the GAA and, to be fair, the organisation did a fantastic job last season in getting both its flagship competitions over the line.

From a Cork viewpoint, it was very unfortunate that the county’s U20 hurlers did not conclude their campaign against the Leinster champions, Galway or Dublin.

Hopefully, they will get the opportunity to do so, because Pat Ryan has assembled a fine squad of players, who had put themselves in a great position to end a long famine in the grade for the county.

Many believe that when a championship is not concluded in the calendar year, its worth is diminished, to some extent, but a county or All-Ireland medal is always something to cherish, no matter when or how you win it.

Despite everything, despite the trials and tribulations that the GAA has encountered over the past 12 months, there will be a legacy of positivity. That is, finally, that we will have a split season going forward, something that was debated for years without ever having a conclusion that satisfied everybody.

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown, of course, forced the change, and, in the summer of last year, with the return to play taking place in club championships, the benefits of the split season suddenly became obvious.

County players, at long last, could train away with their clubs whenever they were required and, for the first time in a long time, the clubs had all their players out on the training field together.

As things stand, the inter-county will be first into the ring this time and there will be no club championship games until the All-Ireland finals are concluded.

Of course, if a county is eliminated early there is no reason why the club scene in that county can’t commence.

Many would prefer the clubs going first, mainly because they consist of the vast majority of the playing population.

On the other hand, you will have an interrupted club season from July onwards.

One way or the other, the split season is here to stay and that will be the real positive from a year like no other.

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