Gerard O'Kane

GERARD O’KANE: Idea of a knock-out championship in Derry is a non-starter

AROUND this time of the year I could usually do a ‘cut and paste’ job re previous articles about how the county season has finished and about how the real action starts for 90 per cent of GAA folk around the country with the club championships.

Twitter feeds are either full of club championship fixtures or league finals as we move to the next stage of the split season.

My own club Glenullin have played our first opener last week in our bid to do back-to-back Intermediate titles as there was no promotion last year. We got off the mark in our group and a full round of fixtures took place in all the championships last week in Derry with a full round this week again.

However it would be remiss of me not to mention the last three weeks which has unfolded in Derry football. Getting back to an All-Ireland semi-final is no easy feat but to be two points up as the clock hit 66 minutes and to come away on the losing side was devastating for all concerned.

As we came up the road on Sunday night and we were still full of adrenalin from the match itself there was a sense of ‘aw well, the lads done well, they gave it a go etc etc’ and that was not meant in a patronising way.

Then on the Monday in the cold light of day when we watched the game back the reality of how close Derry actually were sank in.

A few shots just not executed with complete conviction, a few breaking balls bouncing the wrong way, one or two wrong decisions and one or two generous frees to Kerry helped to swing the momentum and all of a sudden Kerry kick five scores to one in the last eight minutes of play. For Kerry folk it was most likely a feeling of relief, like just put that one to bed, we didn’t motor on all fronts but heads down and two weeks until the final.

That is obviously what they did do as in the 70th minute of their final, they were in a drawn game and it was very much a 50/50 game.

While I had no interest as to who won out the whole thing, in hindsight I am glad it was Dublin, purely from a selfish perspective as we would have been thinking that it could have been us if Kerry had of won it. But alas, it wasn’t to be and I am definitely not going to lay blame at the door of anyone for Kerry beating Derry.

Yes, Derry could and maybe should have won that game, but it was down to a domino effect, a culmination of a number of things and no one singular moment was the reason for this.

We just have to hope that they can raise themselves to that level again and get back there next year again but as mentioned above the sole focus for all of them now and the other 90 per cent of GAA players will be the club championship.

There will be a feast of football in Derry over the coming six weeks. While everyone has opinions about the structure of their respective club’s championships, given how the league in Derry is played out minus county players for 99 per cent of it (albeit this has been down to the county’s recent successful summers), whether you agree with it or not, the group stages is the only way to go.

To have knockout meaning the county players would only play one club game all year is just not feasible.

Even with group stages, most county players will only end up playing six or seven club games for their club, depending on how successful their respective club is.

This in reality is only a handful so it is really important for the clubs themselves to have a chance to play with those players in their team who they have nurtured since their youth so while it might dilute the competitiveness of the championship at the early stages, the idea of a knockout championship in Derry is a non-runner.

With Glen probably being the standout team to beat in the seniors, the intermediate is more wide open with five or six teams more than capable of winning it on their day.

The Junior Championship is probably between the two or three stronger teams and anyone outside of that would be a shock but for all the teams this is their Holy Grail.

This is the one which the team picture will hang in their clubroom walls in 20 years’ time and the one they will have a reunion for in 25 years’ time.

Most club players will maybe go through a lifetime without that feeling on elation in the 30 seconds after a final whistle but thankfully in Glenullin we have and it’s a feeling that you just can’t describe nor swap for anything.

I don’t know who it was coined the phrase ‘leagues are for playing in and championships are for winning’ but they could not have been more on the money.

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