MONAGHAN forward Ryan McAnespie hopes that the 2020 inter-county championship goes ahead as scheduled – but adds that the GAA should strongly consider pushing back the pre-season competitions to give players time to physically and mentally recover.
Earlier this week, Tyrone’s Darren McCurry called on the association to scrap the inter-county championship on the grounds that it’s unfair to expect players to follow a training regime for more than a year without a break.
The All-Ireland SFC final has been set for December 19, and McAnespie is conscious that teams that progress deep into the competition will have little respite before the pre-season competitions roll around again.
But while he thinks the GAA should nudge competitions like the McKenna Cup back a month or so, he doesn’t go as far as to call for the championship to be declared null and void.
Speaking on Tuesday, he said: “I saw Darren’s comments when I was reading the paper this morning. It’s a tricky one – if you’re playing county football and you’re lucky enough to get into the later stages, you could be playing basically two years on the trot unless they change things.
“I’d like to see the championship go ahead, but it has the potential to be a seriously crammed season so maybe they should postpone the start of next year, possibly until February.
“It can be tough going mentally and we all need a break at some point.”
Although necessitated by the pandemic, this year’s club-first approach has been warmly embraced by many inter-county players, and the GAA’s fixtures taskforce convened last night to discuss the next step towards agreeing a split season structure.
McAnespie, who is looking forward to lining out for his club Emyvale in Saturday’s Intermediate Championship semi-final against Monaghan Harps, hopes that this season’s approach isn’t a one-off.
“I think a lot of players are seeing a big difference and are wondering if a split-season is something to go for.
“The way the structures worked in Monaghan as well has been excellent with the group stages in the championship. A lot of clubs are in favour of carrying that out again over the next couple of years.
“With the shorter season you get everyone out playing and it isn’t dragging on. Every game is important so it’s a very enjoyable time at the minute.”
While McAnespie lines out for Emyvale, he actually lives just across the border in Aughnacloy. Matches are presently played behind closed doors in the Republic, while 400 people are permitted to attend games in the Republic. He knows as well as anyone that it’s an unusual situation.
“It’s odd, a couple of miles up the road 400 are allowed in and in Emyvale you’re not allowed any. It’s hard to know why there’s a difference. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks they’ll allow some spectators in. I recognise that everyone’s taking it day-by-day and it can all change again, but the difference is odd.”
Because of the restrictions, Monaghan GAA TV’s steaming service has proven something of a godsend for supporters (visit https://www.monaghangaa.ie/monaghan-gaa-tv/ for details).
“It’s been a massive boost especially with no spectators allowed at all. I know even in our own house, we’re sometimes watching two or three games in a day. You’d the likes of Armagh and Tyrone streaming games so it’s great to see Monaghan following suit.”
It’s also been a particularly busy few weeks for McAnespie, a PE teacher at Largy College, Clones. The doors finally opened again on Monday, and he’s confident that things will get back to some sort of normality in the weeks ahead.
“In fairness it’s going well at the minute, we’re trying to keep everything as controlled as possible. It’s difficult for the students, wearing a mask. It’s not the norm anyway and it’ll take a while to get used to everything but hopefully it’ll be grand after the next few weeks.”
By Niall Gartland