Gerard O'Kane

Gerard O’Kane: Club is (still) King

GIVEN the sporting weekend which has just passed, I don’t think I could have got an easier few days to write about.

I’m not trying to sound like some sort of Nostradamus – I maybe could say ‘I told you so’. I remember penning one or two articles in the last year in this paper talking about the fact the club game, which is played by 100 percent of GAA players as county players are also club players, is where the true action is at.

One of the articles was actually entitled ‘Club is King’. I can say this with a degree of confidence but maybe more importantly balance. I have been at the coalface for over five years at both the club and county scene and I point to my experiences in both and not just be flippant or dismiss one or the other. It shouldn’t come down to a competition against each other, indeed the club and the county scene should compliment each other.


It might be easy to point to all of this given it was county final weekend in a fair few counties or at least knockout championship so the stakes have been raised over the last few weeks, but all you have to do is look at the amount of traction these games generate locally. I can use my own example of spending most of the weekend either refreshing Twitter or following county streams on my phone to log in and watch a match.

This time two years ago watching a match on my phone would not have appealed to me however by the time I had got to Sunday night I had watched games while out for dinner, in a hotel lobby and in a Spa retreat. I had no emotional attachment to any of the games but the interest levels generated in two of the Derry quarter-finals and the Antrim final were massive. That does not take into account the games behind the paywall in Tyrone and Down, which I didn’t watch but was vigorously refreshing my Twitter feed to update.

Contrast this to a weekend when there will be inter-county championship action on. Unless it is Derry involved, I will certainly follow all of the games at some point and if any are live on TV I would watch them, but not with the same degree of excitement as I spent the last weekend doing so.

I would know going by the outpouring of emotion and excitement seen over the weekend and indeed the past six or seven weeks, when the club game has been allowed to flourish and take centre stage, that I am not the only one who feels like this. There is just something that bit more personal being involved with your club than at county level.

That is not point scoring or digs at the inter-county scene. I very much enjoyed my time there and don’t regret it but I do realise that it is not for everyone.

The sacrifices I made during my 15 years to play at that level were not particular to me, most players at that level were making similar sacrifices. Given how much the club game has come on in terms of professionalism, it is often said the top club teams are run like a county set-up but as the club game has risen in terms of the levels of professionalism needed for the inter-county game has risen at a similar rate.

It has pushed on in finding new ways of coaching, development and recovery and if there is one positive of Covid, it is that this has maybe put a halt to all of this and teams are now entering on more of a level playing field.

By way of an example – look at the start of the new Premier League season across the water. The clubs were restricted to a pre-season of three to four weeks. These are top class athletes worth millions of pounds and the clubs are happy enough to rock on with this.

Ordinarily in a GAA pre-season it can last 12 weeks before competition starts. Under the current guidelines the inter-county game only has three to four weeks full access to the players but this in on the back of most players getting a good eight weeks of club action.

Sure what better preparation could the county scene want? All the players are coming off the back of a shorter club season where plenty of work would have been done and players are maybe in better shape for it.

It will be interesting to see if the inter-county season generates the same level of interest as the club game has done over the last 10 weeks, that’s if it gets off the ground given the way current restrictions are happening both locally and nationally.

I for one would have loved to have seen an Ulster Club Championship. Cargin at the third time in-a-row might just have fancied their luck or Dungannon , who would most likely claim to be in bonus territory, would have carried the belief that a team ever needs.

These teams getting a crack at three games, three weeks on the bounce would have made for great viewing. However, given the time when the calls were made the GAA could not have foreseen the issues that lay ahead and are probably just glad to get the chance to run any football at a stage.

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