IF there was any lingering sense of excitement about the restoration of county football to the weekend, it had surely abated by the end of Sunday’s first half against Wexford.
Having been shrouded in freezing fog on Wednesday night in Athy, the temperatures were no better at the weekend and there is nothing worse than watching defensive football in dire weather. The unexpected pyrotechnics at the end lit up a game that was destined to be forgotten the minute it ended. Instead we left Newbridge with a little pep in the step and an appetite for another round of this pre-season tournament.
It is remarkable to think that if Kildare reach the final of this year’s O’Byrne Cup, January will have witnessed five games and by the time the second round of the National League is completed on 9 February, we’ll have played seven competitive games in, whisper it, 35 days. That’s one every five days at a time of year when most people have to wrestle with their consciences to leave their pets outside.
It’s a heck of a schedule, especially when county under-21 teams and third level sides are gearing up for their own championships. If the GAA was to start all over again in the morning, would anyone ever come up with such a crazy schedule? You’d be laughed out of the room if you put it on the table. Well at least you’d hope so.
At the moment the GAA-public are in a state of confusion trying to decipher the new rules that will be introduced while people like Eugene McGee launch paroxysms in support of their proposals every time they are criticised. There are two issues which currently afflict the GAA: fixtures and fixtures.
At inter-county level there is congestion and at club level there is congestion. Both codes have experienced the kind of bottlenecks that made it a misery travelling through places Kildare town and Kinnegad before they were by-passed. If you can remember what it was like to sit in a car and crawl through either of those towns on a Sunday evening then you have a fair idea what it must be like for the average inter-county player to be dragged through the mud at this time of the year.
The solution is simple: create an alternative route. Wherever we are now, we’re all trying to get somewhere else so why is the journey so unnecessarily painful at certain points?
The current fixture schedule, much like our old road network, was designed for a different era. There wasn’t near as many games and there wasn’t half as much time spent preparing for them in gyms and on training fields. How many more times will we have to sit in traffic at this time of year before we realise how crazy the situation is? How long more will it take for something radical to happen?
This year the O’Byrne Cup format got a revamp, moving from a knock-out style competition to a group format. It was like putting a set of traffic lights on a motorway. A solution was devised for a problem that didn’t exist. Meanwhile everyone else is complaining about the scarcity of football in the summer months.
The GAA has the whole summer to itself. No rugby, no soccer, just the GAA in all its championship glory and yet for most county teams, the months of August and September are foreign fields. For those that travel there, their visits are strictly limited. Twice in August maybe, once in September if they’re lucky. Imagine how the lesser lights of the championship must feel every June and July when their seasons finish long before the competition hits fifth gear.
‘Don’t worry boys, ye’ll have a heap of games in January to look forward to.’
This is effectively what the GAA are telling the vast majority of inter-county players every year this farcical situation continues. It is not much better at club level, where the summer is usually by-passed in favour of a deluge of games in late, September, October and November. And of course the elite club teams get to tog out in January and February for all-Ireland competitions.
I don’t see how any of it makes any sense, at any level. My suspicion about the current wave of pre-league games is that the GAA, in its infinite wisdom, suspects that the public is being brainwashed by the evil people of rugby and soccer at this time of year and the only way to fend off their meddling neighbours is to lash more games on the plate. Why else would you try to entice the public out for matches now when thousands upon thousands are queuing for championship football in the summer?
If I didn’t love football so much, I would despair of it altogether but please God the GAA will do something so that I, and the thousands of other Kildare supporters, have more opportunity to see Kildare play at a more meaningful time of the year in a meaningful competition.
The way gone by has been a productive one for Kildare despite the poverty of opposition. Carlow IT and DIT raised little more than a whimper while Wexford didn’t look up to much until Kildare decided to take their foot off the gas in the closing stages on Sunday.
What struck me as bizarre about the team selection was the decision to give John Doyle a full game against Wexford. Does that man need to play so much football at this time of year? What did he have to prove on Sunday? Are the management so blinded by their own philosophy that they cannot see the need to keep our best player fresh for the real battles that lay ahead this year?
With the likes of James Eaton and Padraig Fogarty among the subs, it would be nice to see some of Doyle’s game-time sacrificed for their benefit. They are the players who need it and they are the kind of players the team needs to develop if we are to improve this year.
Cathal McNally looked right at home again in that withdrawn centre-forward role and I’m really starting to relish the season ahead now with him in that position. The Donegal game can’t come soon enough, just to see how he’ll fare against really good opposition.
The defence is a work-in-progress at the moment but I like the way that Mikey Conway and Gary White are playing. They offer the side an awful going forward without compromising too much of their defensive duties while Mick Foley looks like a thoroughbred back on home turf at the edge of the square.
The sooner the league starts the better now.