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Season of Sundays dawns

Kevin McStay
Mayo’s Aidan Kilcoyne takes on Roscommon’s John Nolan in the FBD Connacht League
FACE OFF Mayo’s Aidan Kilcoyne takes on Roscommon’s John Nolan in the FBD Connacht League
last Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile

Another season of Sundays dawns

Kevin McStayKevin McStay

ANOTHER new season dawns and the realisation now is there is an almost seamless transfer from the old one to the new. I tried to detox from the weekly deadline but just as the pain was easing the e-mail pings with a gentle reminder. Fill her up with diesel again and get me your first effort in by Monday. Hitler might well have won his row with Europe if our sports editor was on his staff.
With club fixtures rolling ever closer to Christmas Day itself, and county panels back in training for the new year before the last one has ended, can we honestly say there is a close season at all? Hardly, and where once you had a silly season for the media lasting almost two months (stop muttering down at the back about all twelve months being silly season), the weeks since I signed off were filled with absorbing issues like a new managers’ association, a managers’ revolt if the sideline restrictions were not lifted, and if the Heineken Cup might use our county and provincial grounds.
All very interesting you will agree and this column will elaborate later on Rule 42. But for now a comment: how do paid professionals and experienced amateurs that constitute the rule and decision-making cadre in Croke Park continue to get obvious matters so spectacularly wrong? Like, what were they thinking about when they rolled out the latest rules about managers on the sideline? How does one misread the mood so badly? And why is Nicky Brennan sprinting towards a camera with even the smallest announcement; are there not specialists in the PR/information side of the house available?
I have a very interesting angle on Rule 42 and the strong argument against its removal/amendment which I will bring to you in full next week. It should present an interesting platform to launch the full debate on an issue that was certainly only argued from one standpoint. Suffice to say it will set the GAA members thinking and leave some wondering if too much was promised.
On the other hand, the raw reality of Munster and Leinster unable to host their big rugby matches in their own provinces can reduce all debates to a simple and reasonable conclusion for the GAA man: is our field needed for one of our own games on that date? No! Then, of course ye can use it for an appropriate fee; call us when you next need it and we will see if it clashes with our own stuff.
That is where I am coming from; our premier provincial grounds (Semple, Limerick, Hyde, Castlebar and many, many more) are so underused when it comes to capacity crowd events. How many times a year are they actually used to their full capacity?
But just as a head of steam was building the two slightly over hyped provinces lose out in vital pool games and thus in a 24 hour period the war is over, away games it is!


BUT back to the early season sparring. The provincial leagues masquerade as the first serious blows but the veteran GAA fan knows they constitute nothing more than springtime shadow boxing. Crowds attend to glean a little information and get their first sightings of teams that are under strength, experimental at best and certainly in challenge game mode. And all the time professionalism is whispered on the margins of these get-togethers. Managers are creaming it and the players want a slice of the action. Can this all be true?
We are told the preparation phase is as close to professionalism as makes no difference. It may be the nostalgia drug but we too felt we were pushing our preparation to new heights back in the 80s. Can one continually push improvement or is some of it just for the sake of the optics?
The modern players complain of the time loss and sacrifices of today’s GAA player but at the time we felt the sacrifices were great too but understood very clearly that we, like those who trained us, had volunteered our services and could walk away at any time if we felt we had more important things to do with our lives. By the way, that option still applies to both sides today.
We trained twice a week, fairly hard usually, and had a training game on the Saturday and maybe a club or challenge game on the Sunday. The NFL started in October and there was a game every fortnight and a break usually for December and January. Off again in the springtime and usually an exit by the end of March from the league. A week off and then the real stuff began.  The modern inter-county player might laugh at this schedule, especially as it might not compare favourably with a top-level club team in 2006.
Of course the modern player is correct; one cannot begin to compare the reality of his schedule with our requirement. No games midweek, no games under lights, few meetings and only a little bit of weights, nutrition and psychology. Over the past few years I decided to sneak into the training sessions of teams I admire from afar so that I can judge for myself how training is going and what type of drills and intensity they apply.
It proves that every minute is accounted for and any coach worth his salt has planned the evening. The end result is perfectly-tuned athletes but the cost to the player is one of time and serious commitment. To get to and remain at this elite level is not easy and players very often park family, social interaction, educational opportunities and career responsibilities. The man that sets these standards is exclusively the manager and if he has a few like-minded players so much the better. And getting the best manager for your team is often a costly business.
This is where the GAA money comes in; there are counties, supporters and business people prepared to do all in their power to get the best. Because his expertise and knowledge when dovetailed with a talented crop of players often leads to unimagined levels of success.
The pay for play bandwagon rolls on because for today’s inter-county footballer, it is almost a second full-time job; at club level certainly a twenty-hour week.
I do not agree with some of views articulated by the higher profile players and will argue that when the applause begins to fade and retirement from the playing fields comes into focus, players will have all the rime in the world to become managers or pundits or part-time columnists if that is their fancy. But they can hardly lay claim to owning the association and thus be in charge of its future.
As players we played for the enjoyment, the contest, the fun and the friendships. We played for the pride we had in the jersey and the colours. Today, footballers play for all those reasons too and in my opinion those are reasons enough to keep you at it. If you are lucky enough to play in finals and win them then you are one of the chosen few.
And I’ll finish with an obvious question. We are well into January yet there are still many clubs unable to find suitable managers. Money is not the problem, every club is able to offer reasonable rates. So, why all the vacancies if it is so lucrative? The figures rarely stack up to be truthful and I know plenty of managers who ended up in the red as a result of their passion for certain appointments.

I HAVE long ago given up on the idea that early season FBD, McKenna, McGrath and O’Byrne Cups mean a whole lot to any of the interested parties. It is a time for planning, shaking out and establishing routine. It is possibly the only time left anymore for the hard yards that every team must buy for themselves; perhaps that is why the teams are starting out so early at the end of a previous season.
Team Mayo are up and running too, all God’s children available for selection and a mood of optimism coursing through the camp. This is the type of unity and stability JOM brings to the table, it is not a coincidence that for the first time in a long time we can pick from all the players we want to select from. Results mean nothing for another two months at least but after St. Patrick’s Day, we will be hoping to see the broad outline of a semi-permanent starting fifteen. Right now can I suggest only four positions really matter – full and centre-half back, midfield and full-forward. If I focus in a little more, this can be reduced to the number 3 and 14.
If we fill these to any degree of satisfaction, then the season has all sorts of possibilities; if they remain as troublesome as before, then we can hardly leave port. David Heaney is needed further up the field and the last time we had a serious ball winning 14 was when ‘4-Goal-Willie’ patrolled the edge. Jimmy Burke was a very good second but after that? The 90s and now the new millennium? Don’t think so.