John Horgan column: GAA season coming back to life is a great boost to us all

John Horgan column: GAA season coming back to life is a great boost to us all

Ben McCarthy watches his shot travel along the road during the Carrigaline GAA Poc Fada on New Years Day. Picture: Howard Crowdy

VERY slowly, the GAA season is beginning to stir again, over six months since its closure at the latter end of last July when Kerry got the better of Galway in the All-Ireland SFC final.

The shutdown is all but over now with the commencement of the pre-season competitions across the four provinces in both codes.

It's very early, of course, but those competitions are a nice lead in to the national league and despite the fact that there is not across the board interest in them, they are serving a purpose in so far as it gives management teams an opportunity to throw their eyes over quite a few players that are wearing an inter-county jersey for the first time.

All those pre-season games will be concluded very quickly and then things get a bit more serious with the start of the national league.

Subsequently, thereafter it's really game on when the championship flag is raised.

There is a school of thought about that this season's NHL will be a bit of a damp squib with very few of the participants putting too much store into it.

That has been the case in the past too, championship preparation being prioritised a lot more on the training ground.

The Calnan and McSweeney teams seen at the Carrigaline GAA Poc Fada on New Years Day. Picture: Howard Crowdy
The Calnan and McSweeney teams seen at the Carrigaline GAA Poc Fada on New Years Day. Picture: Howard Crowdy

Just last season, Limerick put very few if any of their eggs into the national league basket, all the concentration was on having the squad in tip-top shape for the Munster championship, the now cut throat group format which decrees that two top hurling counties will have their year over and done with before there will be any heat in the Summer sun.

As we have outlined before, the reason because there might be quite a bit of apathy about this season's league is because of the fact that three of the teams that got themselves immersed in it, Waterford, Cork and Wexford in 2022 had a championship best forgotten.

So, it's going to be very interesting to find out what the approach of the big counties will be towards the secondary competition?.

Quite a number of counties in both Munster and Leinster have now new men wearing the manager's bib and seeing how they go about their business in the league adds to the debate.

After last season's capitulation in Munster, new Tipperary boss Liam Cahill will surely be looking for some positivity from his players early on and to get a very frustrated fan base behind the team from the off.

As always, Davy Fitz will want to win every game Waterford play in but he's a realist too and may not put as much emphasis this time as Liam Cahill did in 2022 when they ended up with the trophy but subsequently failed dismally in Munster.

Dublin, with the very astute and experienced Miceal O'Donoghue taking the reins might be one of the teams that will give the league a bit more priority.

Clare have a lot to build on from last year despite the manner with which they lost to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final when they got a right thumping.

But it must be recalled that Clare were the only county to really put the frighteners on Limerick last season, drawing with them three times in regulation time in the league and twice in the Munster championship.

Their Munster final draw in regulation time before they came up short in the added 20 minutes was one of the games of the year and Tony Kelly's equalising point from a very acute angle to bring that game to extra-time was, undoubtedly, the score of the season from one of the game's great players, a player that you would pay the admission fee alone just to see him in action.

The Greene Team' of Niall, Daniel and PJ Greene seen at the recent Carrigaline GAA Poc Fada. Picture: Howard Crowdy
The Greene Team' of Niall, Daniel and PJ Greene seen at the recent Carrigaline GAA Poc Fada. Picture: Howard Crowdy

Henry Shefflin learned a lot from his first season in charge on the Western seaboard and they did put it up to Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final.

They should have beaten Kilkenny in the Leinster final but then again how Cork contrived to lose to them in the quarters remains a mystery.

With three home games, Cork will have a large support behind them in Pairc Ui Chaoimh and whilst in the long run it might not matter, a win over Limerick in the opener would be seen at putting down a bit of a marker.

The likes of Antrim, Westmeath, Offaly and Laois will look at the league as a means to be competitive in the championship and Joe McDonagh Cup.

The Lake county, after all, held Wexford to a draw in the Leinster Round-robin, one of the stories from that stage of the championship.

As they say, the league will always be the league, intersting but come the championship throw-in it will be consigned to the footnotes of the year.

Kilkenny used to do the double, league and championship regularly and Limerick have accomplished it in recent times.

Then again, their strength in depth was a major contributory factor in those outcomes.

As was stated recently, it's currently Limerick's world, all the rest live outside it That, of course, may change this season and there were a few morsels of evidence last season that a few of the chasing pack are making up ground on them, Clare, Gaway and Kilkenny in paticular because of how they performed, Clare in the Munster final and the Leinster duo in both the semi-final and final of the All-Ireland.

The national league will reveal certain things but until such time as we delve deep into the championship we'll not be really that much the wiser.

In the past, going all the way in the league has worked on splendidly for some teams, a springboard but that was before the timing of the championship was still three or four weeks away.

It's not now and that's why team bosses be trying to ensure that their players peak at exactly the right time, not before, as what happened with Waterford, in particular, last time out.

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