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No concerns on the GAA ‘missing out’

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FOR THE PRIDE OF THE PARISH Supporters watching the 2021 Mayo SFC Final between Knockmore and Belmullet in James Stephens’ Park in Ballina. Some national pundits are against the current split season (county/club) model but it is popular among many at the grassroots of the game. Pic: Sportsfile

The Way I See It
Ger Flanagan

RTÉ’s Marty Morrissey found himself in the firing line of the GAA club fanatics on social media recently when he suggested to GAA President Larry McCarthy that the season was now over during Kerry’s All-Ireland celebration banquet.
Of course McCarthy was quick in his retort that the conclusion of the annual showpiece GAA event spelled only the end of the inter-county season, and the start of the club season.
The razor-fingered tweeters of the GAA world were quick to pounce on Morrissey’s slightly condescending question and accused him of inter-county snobbery. McCarthy didn’t get all-round plaudits either, with plenty of club diehards delighted to point out that the club season had already started!
It’s probably fair to say, however, that neither Marty or Larry were anyway intentional in their remarks and they, more than most, are aware that the club calendar is now going to take flight.
One of Marty’s colleagues, former Cork hurler Donal Óg Cusack, has been stern in his opinion recently that McCarthy and the GAA need to re-examine the calendar to give more life to the inter-county season.
The former goalkeeper believes that the GAA are ‘missing out’ by the shortened schedule and fears the game of rugby or soccer could infiltrate the state and prise young players to take the soup.
This is the person, after all, who once stated that the people who criticise innovation in sport possess the ‘last remnants of British culture on these islands’.
Maybe Donal is more British than he would like to believe, as the split season model was one of the most innovative and progressive moves by the GAA in recent years.
Pot, meet the kettle.
The opinion that the GAA might be ‘missing out’ to soccer and rugby is one shared by Mayo Fine Gael TD Alan Dillon too.
The Ballintubber man released a bizarre statement last week calling on the GAA to restore the status quo of All-Ireland finals in autumn, highlighting that five months without inter-county football is too much.
He sympathised with club players, told them what they wanted to hear and reminded them of their importance, before firmly stating, in a backhand way, that inter-county is the king and club is the poor relation.
RTÉ likewise did little to balance Donal Óg’s calls for a longer inter-county season, allowing him unchallenged air time without a guest to counter argue.
What concerns me most about the comments of the two former inter-county stars is this completely unsubstantiated narrative they are pushing that the GAA are missing out by having July All-Ireland Finals.
Bear in mind that this is the pilot year for the split season calendar. The GAA is voyaging into unchartered waters, but there are calls being made to turn back when the shore is barely out of sight.
It would beg the question as to who is driving this narrative behind the scenes? Why is there a cohort hellbent on ripping up some much needed progression before it has been given any time to breathe and flourish.
The timing of Dillon’s statement was more than peculiar. Not least the fact that public opinion appears to be siding with the opposite opinion of his. And it’s not in the best interests of politicians to go rogue with their own personal opinions over their voters on a controversial topic like this.
Maybe I’m just a cynic, but it would lead you to be believe that a campaign is being orchestrated behind the scenes, which would be concerning.
Even at this stage it’s hard to be optimistic that the GAA won’t try and change the schedule on the back of the critics’ voices. Albeit there are few, their high profile means their voice carries much more weight, which could spell bad news for the club game.
Club championships can flourish
My hope is that the GAA stick to their guns, follow through with their commitment to the split season schedule and ignore the calls for change.
I’m not naïve in knowing that the inter-county game is what appeals to the masses. It’s a sexy commercial juggernaut that the club game just cannot compete with.
The suits love to harp on about the importance of the club game and where it stands on the ladder, but even the best patroniser can’t hide the fact that we know and they know the inter-county game is what makes the organisation tick.
However, I’m confident that the club championships will flourish this year. It has all the ingredients right now to become the optimum blend of itself.
It is not being overshadowed by the inter-county game, so interest should be huge. The Mayo Senior League will be over and done with and clubs will have at least two weeks lead in time to get their preparation right.
August and September is full throttle in terms of games, so there is no reason why the GAA should ‘miss out’.
People will acclimatise to this new normal. The inter-county FOMO will be a distant memory and hopefully the critics will take stock of the new calendar when it is finished, and not before then.
If they still feel strongly about extending the season and have some quantifiable data around shrinking interest in the GAA, then so be it, at least they will have experienced the new format.
But judgement should be reserved until the first year is at least over.

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