WITH the festivities done and dusted now the work for the year ahead begins in earnest over the coming weeks.
This should be the time of the year too for clubs, particularly those who have been successful in the various championships to celebrate with what used to be one of the off-field highlights, the annual dinner dance.
Those types of events are severely curtailed now because of the ongoing health situation and in many cases, they are probably cancelled altogether. That’s a great pity because, and again for those who have been picking up silverware, it was an opportunity for players, officials and, of course, dedicated supporters to come together for a well deserved social occasion.
The County Board would have a representative present alongside a divisional representative and in many cases a guest of honour that the club would invite in.
The highlight of the night would be the medal presentation to the players who made the success possible.
Going up to receive that medal would be a huge honour for every player, a recognition of the hard work that was put in on the training ground for many months.
Winning a county with your own club, alongside the players you grew up with and went to school together with is a huge achievement for those who have been able to achieve that goal in their sporting lives. If a club is winning a title for the first time it is all the more special and if a club has had to endure a lengthy famine without success, the night of the medal presentation has extra significance.
Winning a county medal has never been easy and won’t get any easier because of the ultra-competitive environment that now exists in all clubs, particularly those who are always expected to be there or thereabouts.
The new format of the competitions on Leeside, the very successful format that the county board introduced makes it harder still to go all the way and lift that county championship trophy.
With the new format where every club is guaranteed at least three games, you have to get it right from the start. An early loss won’t put you out of contention but it will add an extra layer of pressure for the next make-or-break assignment.
Lose two games and the chances are that your season will be over very quickly. But the format is as fair as it gets and it’s a case of having everything ready for the big throw-in.
Much has been said and written about the split season, the inter-county and club divide where there is no crossover between club games and inter-county involvement.
There are different viewpoints on the subject, many of the opinion that the county club championships should begin first because the wait for club players from one season to the next for meaningful, competitive action is too long.
If a club is knocked out early one season, they could be waiting nine, ten or more months for their next championship game and that is far too long.
The Red FM County SHL does provide clubs with plenty of games when, of course, they will be minus their inter-county players and that competition is very meaningful in its own way and it gives team managers the opportunity to throw their eye over all the players in their squad.
Red FM has given generously as the competition sponsor for a long time now and it has proved to be a successful alliance between themselves and the County Board.
Winning the league has often been the forerunner to a championship success and the Rockies illustrated that in 2020 when they landed the big prize which followed on from their league triumph.
At the time one of their star players, Michael O’Halloran stated that it was an important stepping stone for them and it provided them with a winning mindset.
This new season’s County SHL should be that bit more interesting given the fact that there will be new management teams in quite a few clubs, for starters in the big three city clubs, the Barrs, Glen and Rockies.
All the new personnel coming on board will want to hit the ground running, get a few wins under their belt and look at as many new players as possible.
The SHL is certainly more structured now than it once was when one year’s competition might run into the next and once or twice was never concluded.
That’s all changed now and clubs will see it as that stepping stone that will have them in a strong frame of mind for the championship season. For the winners of the secondary competition there is also a nice financial reward which never goes astray in any club. And if you do manage to lift the trophy it will sit proudly at the top table of your yearly celebration dinner if that takes place.
If there is the opportunity to hold such an event a couple of clubs would have two sets of county medals to hand out, Lisgoold who won the junior and lower intermediate titles in the space of a short few months and Castlemartyr who were successful in the LIHC and the IAHC in a similar space of time.
Those would be extra special occasions.