Restarting of County Championship is GAA’s Missed Opportunity

With the current situation in all sports in Ireland being significantly impacted by Covid-19 currently after being shut down for the last couple of months we are starting to see the restart we have been craving. The restart of the GAA club championship recently has been a welcome return to all the passion for the game. The arrival of fixtures such as the one I viewed this weekend on GAAGO was Castlegar and Portumna at the weekend where 13-man Portumna was relegated to the senior B championship. This was after a bruising, punishing but an enthralling battle where Castlegar showed their calibre where they may be entering the decorated list of great Galway club teams. It would not surprise me if they could win an All-Ireland club title if they get through the minefield of Galway club hurling championship.   

The point of me bringing up this game correlates with the GAA’s proposal to restart the county championship in October. That game gave me one of the examples I have seen since the club game restarted of how the GAAs persistence to finish the club championship in a short period may be a huge missed opportunity for the sport nationwide. The club game is the heart of the GAA, it gives pride, spotlight, a sense of community, and identity to forgotten Ireland. With Rural Ireland suffering in particular from the pandemic where the local heartbeat of the community be that the local pub, the church, and the GAA club with many of their members losing their jobs over the last couple of months having the club game restart was the welcome boost these communities needed.

Therefore I believe the GAA going for the safe, elitist approach of forcing the club championship to finish in a condensed period and allowing county training to restart has shown the contempt the club game is treated in this country. With clubs been stripped of their best players once again during a crucial period, the GAA missed the chance not just to be a trailblazer but return to what the game stands for.

The GAA should have made the bold move of cancelling the 2020 championship and putting their emphasis behind a focused county and All Ireland club championship. Giving the clubs throughout the country for the first time and a full selection of their panel can provide the game at club level the recognition it deserves.  This would make for increased interest in the forgotten but vital aspect of the association and the boost the local communities that are suffering through the boost they need and reinstate the hunger and pride for the local club.

However, the GAA decision to persist with the status quo even in extraordinary times has shown how out of touch, and elitist the organisation has become. It is something that is mystifying from even a purely economic standpoint due to the spiralling costs of currently running an inter-county team. With the average costs of an intercounty setup being 789000 euros, which is the average cost added by accumulating all 32 intercounty teams expenses together been a particular viewpoint. This shows the glaring imbalance of the funding for the game between the intercounty and club setup that currently exists.

With this mind-boggling figure for the cost of managing an intercounty team and the lack of income due to closed-door inter-county games planned for the near future, it makes no economic sense for the championship to be reinstated. However, the insistence of continuing with the intercounty setup has shown how out of touch that Croke Park has become with there members. It has given the impression that people have had that the game has become elitist and the intercounty game has taken precedence over the clubs its support is built on.

If logical thinking had prevailed a setup where GAA club games could have been broadcast to satisfy the growing TV audience in a repackaged county and All Ireland championship. While club games are being transmitted, they are losing their lustre when the club championship will be getting into their crunch period in September when intercounty training resumes. This resumption of intercounty training will strip clubs on their intercounty talent at a crucial time. With the behaviour of intercounty setups over the past few seasons, it does not give me confidence that the clubs will be allowed to perform to their maximum ability.  

As the Club game was due to finish before the intercounty season took off again, it is given the impression that both sides will have the opportunity to fulfil their commitments. However, allowing the intercounty teams to start training in September will see clubs stripped of their best players for a critical period. This has shown that the club game in this country continues to be an afterthought, and they are quickly becoming the Cinderella of the organisation with local communities continuing to be ignored.

Ciaran Thompson keeps a tight grip on Tyrone’s Brian Kennedy. Photo Evan Logan

By sticking to the same structure regardless of a public health crisis that is occurring and with local communities struggling to remain relevant with the restrictions on Pubs and places of worship, the GAA could have sent out a strong message of solidarity. Instead, they went out of their way to accommodate a costly intercounty program where spectators will at best be limited and at worst without spectators. This incorporated with public health costs for managing a team would lead to a drain of already depleted resources that will impact programs for the club game and underage development.

The short slightness of this approach can be baffling for all sides to see and instead of going for a pragmatic route of allowing the clubs to become more relevant and support the small communities. It has instead taken a half baked approach which appeases only the elite levels of the game and has shown that the club game has become an afterthought for Croke park which may damage the prospects of the game in the long run.

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