The John Horgan column: GAA has so much to play for but when will it start?

Frustrating time for everyone involved with the Association as the weather improves but the games remain on hold
The John Horgan column: GAA has so much to play for but when will it start?

The Limerick hurlers at an empty Thurles during a water break. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

IT’S been a year since the GAA fields first fell silent. For a couple of months, they remained that way.

Things did get going again after the first lockdown, and the organisation did a great job in getting its provincial and All-Ireland senior championships concluded.

But the health crisis decreed that the fields close again and now the only certainty about the nine months that are left in this year is the uncertainty.

No draws have been made for any competition, not at club or provincial level, and what format they will take is uncertain, too.

There is still the problem of trying to conclude 11 county senior championships, plus God knows how many in the lower levels, from last season.

And when the games do resume, they will likely be played behind closed doors, initially anyway.

The rollout of the vaccine will alter that as time progresses and people will be allowed back into stadiums, but we will still be a long way off erecting the house ‘full sign’ again.

So, reflecting on the past year, the GAA has to be complimented on a job well done in extremely difficult circumstances.

The organisation has taken a huge financial hit and will continue to do so for quite some time. But, despite everything, there were positives, one being the ability to stream games at all levels.

This was a huge success, particularly at club level, and supporters who otherwise would not have got to see their beloved club in action got to do so.

Here on Leeside, streaming was used all the way down to minor level.

The absence of supporters in all codes of sport continues to have an adverse effect.

An aerial image of an empty All-Ireland Hurling final as the final notes of Amhrán na bhFiann were being played. 
An aerial image of an empty All-Ireland Hurling final as the final notes of Amhrán na bhFiann were being played. 

It is weird watching games in huge stadiums and only a handful of backroom team personnel present, but at least it’s better than no sport at all.

One wonders if Liverpool would have lost six games on the trot at Anfield in front of a full Kop end.

We are never again going to have a straight knockout format in the All-Ireland championships, but it worked very well last season in the senior football, when it was required, given the condensed campaign.

The biggest casualty, of course, was Kerry in the Munster championship and their concession of a last-gasp goal to Cork meant that their year was done and that they could not come back later in the campaign and compensate.

The greatest success story of the last 12 months has been the decision to have a split season: An inter-county season and a club season.

Would that have happened if we didn’t have the health situation? Almost certainly not.

Clubs benefited greatly from what transpired and will continue to do so when some sort of normality resumes.

Now, they will have their inter-county players for the duration of their campaign and it won’t be like before, when they rarely had them because of their involvement with the county team and the inter-county manager insisting on their presence at all times.

CONNECTION

The GAA made itself felt in local communities over the past 12 months, with personnel from clubs helping out in other areas, assisting those most vulnerable at a critical time.

And that is what makes the GAA so special, that sense of community spirit that bonds together so many people.

When the need was at its greatest, that club spirit was so evident.

People are desperate for the games to begin again and talking to a friend recently, he said, ‘What I wouldn’t give to be able to go over to Ballinlough to watch an old junior B game’.

Many express similar sentiments and it’s mind-boggling, really, that inter-county games won’t go ahead until probably the May weekend, at the very earliest, given that the League of Ireland soccer season is kicking off next weekend.

How that’s seen as an elite sport and inter-county GAA is not is baffling. 

One thing that needs to change, however, when the season does get the green light, is the water-break. There is just no need to halt a game after 15 minutes and if a vote were taken on it, the result would be an overwhelming ‘yes’ to shelve it.

We saw, in a lot of games last season, how a team that was playing very well suddenly lost the initiative because of the water-break. In some instances, the water-break was a game-changer and in some games, too, it was used by backroom personnel for tactical purposes.

At one game during a water-break, a tactics board appeared.

One way or the other, it’s time for some sort of a road map to be introduced for the GAA season ahead. The organisation did a remarkable job in very difficult circumstances when it was allowed to play last season.

It will again this time when it happens...

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