WHILE I don’t want to come across as a grouch, I have to say I’m not particularly enamoured by the so-called ‘split season’.
I’m not really sure what the GAA is actually doing with all those. At county level they want a rushed closed window, and I’m not at all convinced by it. The club season is still finishing around the same time as ever, and because they’re trying to get the season wrapped up before the new calendar year, we’re seeing semi-finals and finals the week before Christmas.
The matches have been amazing, particularly the Munster Championship, but that’s nothing to do with the condensed season. That’s just the quality of hurling, it’s been at a different level, but forcing those matches to be played week-in week-out is actually bad for the game. I don’t think people actually got to enjoy the build-up, that’s the big thing that’s been lost. Tipperary played Offaly last weekend and I wasn’t even aware it was on, there was so little hype about it. It almost feels like that in football as well.
We’re going to have our All-Ireland semi-finals and finals in July. The football championship will be over in six weeks. I understand the theory to a certain point, the All-Ireland football final finishing towards the end of September was maybe a bit of a stretch. But if they brought the hurling and football finals two weeks forward, that allows time for your county championships to be finished up in good time, and that’s as much as I would have done.
The idea of moving it forward to mid-July, it doesn’t feel right and there’s something strange about it. When Antrim won Ulster titles back in the day we’d go down to All-Ireland semi-finals in the late summer and it just felt a lot more natural. I don’t see any merit in this change. You’re running through a National League programme and there doesn’t seem to be intensity to it it at all, it now feels like a warm-up competition.
For Antrim, our season hinged on staying up in Division One, and even for some of Antrim’s games, the intensity was very low.
I even personally felt, the structure of the competition is now fantastic, I couldn’t agree more to it and I’d give GAA credit for that.
Antrim had Dublin, Wexford and Kilkenny and they were fantastic games but Darren Gleeson complained about Antrim playing four games in the blink of an eye.
There was no momentum or build up or hype. You look at the paper, they report the result on a Monday and before you know it the next game is done and dusted. I guarantee if you stop most hurling fans in Antrim and ask them what their results were in the Leinster Hurling Championship, they’d be going ‘oh Jesus I can’t even remember’. Antirm drew with Dublin in the Leinster Championship, an amazing result as far as I’m concerned, and it was all over, moving onto the next one.
I feel we’re not far away, the structures are good but I don’t like the timing of it. I think it should have a Champions League feel, where there’s a fortnight’s break when it gets to the big matches and it allows the hype to build and I don’t think it’d be too painful for the GAA to add even a month onto the inter-county season.
What it also comes down to, and this might be the factor that persuades the GAA to change tack, is that if a player picks up any sort of niggle, his season is practically over.
Even the most minor injury can put a player out for the biggest matches of their season.
A three or four-week injury can be catastrophic for a player and there’s very little they can do about it, whereas in the past they’d have a window to recover. I also wonder whether this can be good for amateur athletes. Take the Munster Championship. People I’ve talked to have said it was unbelievable. Not only was it baking hot, but those boys were playing matches at an intensity beyond most professional sport, and the same players are playing the following Sunday at the exact same intensity.
If I was to make a prediction, the careers of both inter-county hurlers and footballers are going to become a hell of a lot shorter. Indeed, one of the arguments in favour of a split-season is that it gives them more free time, but it definitely doesn’t, it means boys who are playing at flat out intensity are expecting to go again right away.
I think in the past, dipping in and out of club and county was actually quite a positive thing. At this stage it looks like the ship may have sailed but I really hope the GAA reassess the situation and amends it. The welfare of the players and the enjoyment of the spectators is paramount and I don’t see how the split-season is benefiting anyone.