A WATCHING BRIEF Mayo manager James Horan and Cillian O’Connor are pictured watching the Mayo SFC group game between Castlebar Mitchels and Breaffy last month. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
IMAGINE the prospect of watching an All-Ireland senior football final two weeks before Christmas? Well, that’s the reality now after last week’s confirmation that the championship will be going ahead.
It’s great news, and will be such a unique experience for all of us to see high-quality Gaelic football at that stage of the year. We’ll just have to wait and see whether we get to see it on TV or in the flesh when the time comes.
We’re all really looking forward to the inter-county season restarting, but that shouldn’t take away from how so many of us have enjoyed the club championships around the country over the last month or two.
What a lot of people seem to enjoy about the club game is that it’s not as tactical and negative as some of what we see at inter-county level. More unpredictable things are likely to happen, and there’s more naivety, which I would see as a good thing sometimes!
Bigger, faster and stronger doesn’t always mean better in terms of the quality of the game and the entertainment. And that’s something that’s struck me over the last few weeks.
I’ve always felt that GAA inter-county teams can only go so far in terms of preparation and science and, to be honest, I think we’ve passed that point over the last 10 to 15 years.
Stepping back a little bit would be a good idea, I believe. If it’s still possible.
Mayo were back on the training field like everybody else last week.
Because this season is set up to run off quickly, management will have to make decisions early. There’s not a lot of time for trial and error.
It’s a unique task for every manager, including James Horan. In Mayo’s case the team isn’t as settled as it was two or three years ago so there are a few positions up for grabs.
So before Mayo got stuck back into training last week, he needs to know most of the team he intends to play against Leitrim at the end of next month; give or take a few positions.
Because he needs to spend time preparing that team to be ready.
With five weeks to go, I don’t think it’s possible for any manager to say, ‘We’re going to keep an open mind on everybody, and play a bunch of open games to see who plays where.’
They have to try and find some chemistry in the team so they will have to use every one of the 15 or 20 training sessions they’re going to have before the championship starts.
That way players will know their exact role in the team.
The team that wins the All-Ireland this year is going to be one with a shrewd manager who knows his team, has them ready for the first game, and then develops it from there.
That’s the big challenge.
There’ll be a bit of luck as well because players just can’t afford to get a knock or a niggle at the moment or they could end up missing the championship.
Less time to work on defensive organisation and preparation might not be a bad thing for us neutrals either, I think it could lead to more entertaining games. Teams have only had six weeks as opposed to six months to get ready for championship.
Confidence going into this championship is going to be huge because players won’t have time to play themselves into form given the condensed nature of the schedule.
That means managers need to know their team before the competition starts, and possibly even before the last rounds of the National League.
This Mayo team is going to have to know what they want to do and how they want to play long before the Leitrim game.
They’re going to have start winning games right out of the blocks.
Regulations are there to be followed
THE return to play protocols for inter-county players are going to mean life on game-day is going to be very different for them from next month. The reality is that individual managers and players may feel that some of those protocols are quite draconian.
And they’re entitled to that opinion.
But I think it’s very important that all inter-county teams are given a clear message that they have to abide by these measures; the most important thing is restricting the spread of this virus in the country.
If there are breaches by inter-county players or teams, I think it’s going to be magnified because of the profile of those players and teams. The same goes for the managers.
So it’s important for all inter-county players to show solidarity with the rest of the public.
I’ve seen in other sports, like baseball, where the virus spread because individuals didn’t follow the guidelines. In a lot of instances that ended up with team-mates getting the virus.
For the sake of the image of the GAA, the players and the team they play for, it’s absolutely imperative that they play their part and follow the measures.
The thing that matters more than anything right now is people’s health.
I’m obviously not a public health expert so I’m not able to say what number of supporters could or should be allowed back into stadiums and when. But the news that some supporters are being allowed in is great news.
Sure, the numbers are small at the moment given the size of the stadiums but it’s great to see some people being able to go and just enjoy the day out.
In Armagh and Down, I know first-hand the huge amount of enjoyment that people take from going to games. From Under-12 matches right up to senior championship.
And people in Ulster have really respected the measures that were in place.