How has the shortened season affected clubs?

Club competitions will all be concluded very soon. Three club managers gave us their thoughts on the positives and negatives of this restricted season
Carl McCabe (Omagh manager)

How have your players handled the shortened season? Has it been a struggle?

Once there was a realisation that there was going to be some sort of a season in 2020, I feel the players really embraced it. After the long period of collective inactivity and players having to do their own thing (as well as entertaining each other via various player-led Zoom sessions), the sense of anticipation and excitement during June was palpable as. Firstly, small group training was permitted and then the green light for collective training at the end of June was given.

In terms of fixture scheduling, the ‘everyone is in the same boat’ phrase applied. Having said that, there was huge relief when the original fixtures released (Fri/Sun games for two weekends in a row!) were altered to provide one game per week for four weeks pre-championship.

The vast majority of the Omagh squad were working diligently with the conditioning programmes provided throughout lockdown, so in terms of a fitness base we were happy enough. As the phases easing out of lockdown commenced, the players and management were then able to see what had been posted in the WhatsApp in the flesh and we could compare and contrast where players were at in relation to each other fitness-wise.

The shape some of the lads arrived back in really inspired the group; ally that to the joy and craic of just being out on the field, often in glorious sunshine, the mood was good and the focus was just on getting the best out of each other, as quickly as possible, in readiness for the games ahead.

In terms of how the players and management handled the full training and playing part of the shortened season, barring injuries picked up, it was a case of trying to be smart about balancing training load, recovery and slotting in challenge games according to the COVID guidelines.

How has management and the club handled the shortened season?

I think Naomh Éanna did an exceptional job throughout the COVID situation, both internally and in the local community. In many ways, it was a case of the Committee thinking practically and creatively in the unprecedented circumstances. There was an acceptance early on that ‘this is what it is’ and the club got to work mobilising to provide invaluable services for those most vulnerable in and around the town. This of course was the case nationwide with GAA clubs rallying to play their part. It isn’t any surprise that this happened but it certainly isn’t taken for granted and it was a really uplifting aspect to club and community life that the Club proved so adaptable and engaged when promoting and playing the games is usually the overriding focus.

What have the negatives been for the shortened season?

From a preparation and playing point of view, the injuries and the lack of time for players to get a chance to get back on the pitch was a negative. However, I’m sure most, if not all clubs, suffered in this regard. Considering how truncated the season is in 2020, it was most unfortunate for any player in any club to suffer an injury that was going to rule them out, particularly having been deprived of games from March to July. But that’s sport!

It has also been tough on non-playing members and supporters throughout the county and country who love the cut and thrust of weekly football and the myriad of emotions that they experience watching the games. Then not having the opportunity for the post-match debates in the days after – tough going!

What have the positives of the shortened season been?

It seems a long time ago now, but there was talk of no football or hurling happening in 2020 at one stage; so to get the club season we have had after all is a positive.

In Omagh, the injuries, as is always the case, opened the door for other players to step in and develop which bodes well for the future.

From a planning and playing point of view, a positive was the way in which players and management had to collaborate and challenge each other to get up to speed physically and tactically in a short space of time.

From a management point of view, the ultimate positive was having our two county senior panellists present. Having them about helping to set standards in training and preparation was just so refreshing. Even from a social angle, it was great they they could really immerse themselves in the Club and amongst their club mates without trying to balance the demands of an inter-county season too.

What should the GAA and the county boards learn from this season?

The playing calendar has to be sorted for the betterment of the club player in particular.

In 2019, club senior league fixtures in Tyrone commenced on March 31st with the League Final taking place on November 9th and a relegation play off game on November 30th – an eighth month season for some, seven or so months for the vast majority.

During the course of that season, you had a situation were no senior football was played at all for an eight week period from June 16th until August 10th.

Then there were three ACL games (one without county players, two with) in a two week spell before the senior championship on 31st August. The whole Club SFC was then played off in a 7 week period, finishing on Sunday 13th October.

The brief outline above is a common feature, particularly when Tyrone have an extended run in the All-Ireland campaign, which has been a fairly regular occurence for nearly twenty years now.

It is not uncommon for the Club SFC to be run off in anything from four to seven weeks when that happens. So you could argue, clubs have become accustomed to the notion of a ‘shortened season’!

The big difference in 2020 was the fact that the time for club preparation, albeit shortened due to Covid in terms of league games, did not have to be fitted in around the County calendar and County players didn’t have the difficult situation of having to try to balance the demands of both competitions.

In many ways, this was better compared to 2019 and other years when a Club with County players largely doesn’t have them at Club training or for ACL games and then there is a very small window post-Tyrone (effectively two weeks last year) to get them back into the swing of things tactically as well as being conscious of the fact that they may still be trying to process the end of an inter-County campaign that they had dedicated a large part of their time and energy to.

As short a season as it has been, it has still illustrated the point that players want to be playing regularly without gaps between fixtures filled with numerous training sessions. The old adage ‘the club is the hub of GAA’ has for the first time in a long time rung true in 2020, even if the provincial club championships have had to be sacrificed.

Is it a coincidence that the energy and overall quality and excitement of the Club championships has been so refreshing?

Killian Conlon (Newbridge manager)

How have your players handled the shortened season? Has it been a struggle?

There was no struggle at all, and if anything we would have liked it to have gone on a bit longer. The players took to it really well. We started on June 29, and had eight weeks. There was little time between games and was short and sharp.

How has management and the club handled the shortened season?

We offered the opportunity to everyone at the start. It was an opt in opt out scenario. Fortunately only a couple opted out for personal reasons. We had a good amount who opted in. It was great. The weather played ball as well. Lads were able to change at the side of the pitch. Thank goodness there was no rain. That was a saving factor for all clubs.

What have the negatives been for the shortened season?

Not having enough time to watch videos and to do analysis. But that probably had its positives because the games were coming thick and fast. That carried you through. There were no long meetings for players. It was a wee bit of downside. There was very little negatives. Perhaps the smaller numbers who cold attend. It might be more of a challenge at county level. The county has more to organise. It would be more of a challenge to them. A downside is that there was no provincial series for the clubs.

What have the positives of the shortened season been?

The live games have been brilliant. You can go in and watch them again. The commentary and coverage has been first class. It was good that there were no distractions.

There was a full panel, and everyone was there for training. That was really good. There was good work done by the club, the Newbridge club handled that very well. All the covid officers worked really well.

What should the GAA and the county boards learn from this season?

Who knows what happens in 2021, we might not be back in changing rooms. Things will be dictated

by government and what restrictions will be lifted. The GAA has been great as they have got our championships run off. Perhaps we learned that games can get run off without baggage. I think it has been great.

Michael Lynch (Cloughaneely)

How have your players handled the shortened season? Has it been a struggle?

I’d say they have enjoyed it. Most of the lads came back in in good shape and since we have been back it nearly has been games every week, between a couple of challenge games, regional leagues and now 5 championship games. In fairness to the CCC here this last couple of years we have been getting steady games every week anyway so its not really a big change, it’s probably just championship is a month or so earlier than normal.

How has management and the club handled the shortened season?

Again it’s probably not a massive difference, you just hadn’t time to try out lads in different positions or different set ups like we would normally do in league games. With Covid the usual problems of weddings and holidays aren’t an issue so you nearly have everyone available every weekend unless injured and everyone is mad to play games and train because it’s the only release.

What have the negatives been for the shortened season?

I’d say the negatives are limited, but one would be the lack of recovery time for injured players. If you picked up a hamstring or that type of injury which would normally mean missing a few league games, it could mean missing the whole season

What have the positives of the shortened season been?

Like I said above having everyone available and eager for both games and training including our county player is a huge positive. The weather hasn’t been great but playing championship matches in the middle of summer has been great and training and playing on good surfaces is definitely better than wading about in the muck.

What should the GAA and the county boards learn from this season?

I think it shows what a good product club football is. There was a lot of talk about there being a void left with no county football but I don’t think that has happened. Before the crowd restrictions came in there was large attendances for club games and since that the tv and streaming audiences have been good also. I think they should stop looking at club football as the poor relation and come up with a way that gives equal opportunities for both club and county football to thrive.

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