GAA, GAA Championships 2020, Gaelic Games, Hurling

GAA Championships will shine some light

Perhaps it was quixotic to expect anything else. With a grim early winter ahead of us, the elite players of the GAA are set to provide a real glimmer of hope and respite to hundreds of thousands of people across the country.

The GAA have been clear from the outset that they will follow NPHET advice, notwithstanding that HPHET’s close cousin the HSE is all advice and no action. The government and HPHET have decreed the GAA season can continue, the benefits deemed to have outweighed the potential pitfalls.

July and August will probably go down as the two most normal months of 2020 since Covid-19 arrived on our shores, which conversely meant that behaviours generally became more relaxed. We’ve all seen a video of ill-conceived celebrations of county final victories, just as we’ve all heard of widespread house parties. Normal behaviour essentially but as we are constantly and not unreasonably reminded, these are not normal times.

However, the GAA, so far to the forefront of community goodwill throughout the Covid crisis cannot be blamed for people congregating and celebrating after hurling and football matches. This knives-out, skewed logic would likely, therefore, attribute responsibility to Liverpool Football Club and the Premier League for the thousands of people partying unreservedly on the streets of the city after the club’s first league victory in 30 years.

Under no circumstances is anyone stating the championships must go ahead. However, on balance of the myriad aspects to be considered – mental health, threat to public health, escapism and optimism – they should.

The GPA have requested the provision of testing on demand for all players, which for the most part seems reasonable. If players are unhappy with the set-up or have specific individual concerns they can opt-out and there is no suggestion that pressure is being placed on anyone to play.

Based on the general mood, you’d imagine that players are only bursting to get out there – provided the correct precautions are taken –  and as the championship proceeds while sunset arrives earlier, the appreciation for the sacrifice they have made will only heighten.  

The plaudits of amateurism, usually applied to laud the players are now, rather disconcertingly, being used as a stick with which to beat them. Why, some people wonder, should these amateurs be allowed play their sport while other team sports are prohibited? It’s pedantic, and not a little insulting, to suggest that inter-county hurlers, footballers and camogie players are not in the elite category because they are not professionals.

If you don’t agree with the logic behind allowing one of the cherished tenets of Irish life proceed then the chances are you aren’t a GAA fan. For many, the live broadcasts on radio and television over the next eight weeks will provide immeasurable solace and a rare beacon of light and escapism.

On a practical basis, and pragmatism is fast running out, the running of elite inter-county games behind closed doors presents only a minimal risk of out breaks of Covid-19 and as we’ve told by the WHO for quite some time now, we must learn to live with Covid until such time as a vaccine arrives.

Shutting everything down is not the answer unless the period of lockdown is used to increase ICU capacity or effectively establish and implement quarantine for people arriving from abroad. And we saw how effectively NPHET and the HSE used the last lockdown.

The HSE has failed Irish society on more than one occasion and their failure in tandem with the government to increase the number of ICU beds since the severity of this virus became apparent in February is the real failing that our society should currently be considering.

For those who oppose the running of the inter-county championships, it is of no benefit to posit an argument predicated on the facts that the economy has been forced to close or that driving from one end of the country to the other is likely to spread the disease.

Without question, the GAA should provide testing where required and the lead can be taken from other sports whereupon positive tests arise. If they are unwilling to do this, then a mass exodus of the players – the ones who matter most in all of this – would not only be likely but expected. 

For a large section of Irish society, the GAA inter-county championships are a fundamental, engrained aspect of life.  Many people could not give a damn about the GAA and that’s absolutely fine too.

But, with so many holes to be plugged, it seems unseemly and unnecessary to argue so vehemently against an activity – whose protagonists are giving so unselfishly – that will immeasurably benefit large swathes of Irish society through what is shaping to be a winter of discontent.

It is, admittedly, naïve to suggest that the Championship will run without a hitch and the naysayers will be waiting with glee for the first report of a cluster. But so long as we wait on a vaccine this virus is here. And, a behind closed doors championship pales in terms of significant risk factor compared to other currently functioning activities.

In a year bereft of positives though, imagine the excitement if, say, Mayo and Wexford ended their All-Ireland droughts in the depths of winter before a rapt audience.

True, there are risks attached to this year’s championship, but compared to the missteps that have come before, this is not one we will regret. With patience wearing thin and anger brewing, the bigger questions should be aimed elsewhere.

Graded levels of lockdown have introduced a society where all things are considered either entirely right or entirely wrong, with little room for nuance.  However, the positives of allowing our most popular domestic sporting event proceed far outweigh the negatives, insofar as they exist.

We all have room for some positivity in our lives, now more than ever. If these GAA championships improve the mood of a couple of hundred thousand people, then their running will surely be deemed an overwhelming positive.

From George A. Romero to The Walking Dead, zombie shows and films ultimately portray the humans and not the zombies as the self-destructive entity. And, predictably we’re eating away at each other now, while morbidly consuming as much negative news as possible.  

Let’s embrace the unusual presence of the inter-county championships for the next two months – for so many of us it will mean so much.

All Ireland Championship 2017, GAA, Kerry v Mayo, Mayo

Mayo: The Neverending Story

Rarely do we dip our toes in the realm of Gaelic Football. On the long list of things we know little of, the some might say, lesser of the Gaelic games is at the top. However, after yet another day of incomprehensible twists, the type you find in a too clever for itself novel, Mayo’s footballers have left the country simultaneously breathless and perplexed. US sports would kill for a story like that of the Mayo football team.

Clearly, at this stage, this Mayo team has been instilled with an unmatched level of relentlessness and defiance and to that end, Stephen Rochford and his management team deserve due credit. How though, less than a year removed from the Robbie Hennelly debacle, could Rochford have deemed it a good idea to place Aidan O’ Shea on Kieran Donaghy for the purpose of contesting a handful of high balls?

As against Roscommon, when Lee Keegan was moved to full-back to follow Enda Smith, Mayo chose to play into their opponent’s hand with an unnecessarily conservative move. O’ Shea has been the driving force for Mayo since their Connacht championship exit and along with Cillian O’ Connor the sole reason they advanced through qualifiers against Derry and Cork. So, why then would management try to solve a problem that had not yet presented itself? Donaghy had thirty good minutes against a novice Galway full-back, and Mayo pissed the bed accordingly.

Donal Vaughan seemed the logical choice to shadow Donaghy early on and unlike O’ Shea, a forward by trade, the former has the capabilities to stick to the veteran Kerry forward and make life a touch more difficult, the way Dublin have in the past. Jackie Tyrrell wrote recently in the Irish Times of how the traditional full-back had been eschewed in hurling and that the role had now become undefinable. Now, obviously they’re different sports but a traditional full-back can’t be created with a couple of stop-gap performances in the National League. And, that is clearly what Mayo were looking for. Vaughan himself would have been somewhat of a novice in the role though he has probably man-marked forwards on hundreds of occasions at this stage of his career. What person then, who has yet to take leave of their senses, sends a bulldozing forward back to do the most specific of man-marking roles?

In any event, this unusual and unsuccessful selection shall be dissected over the coming week but in the midst of the discussion, it should not be lost on us how this current iteration of Mayo have thrilled in a way that few other teams can ever claim to have done.

Obviously, Dublin are the dominant force and Kerry are permanently there or thereabouts but relentless victories do not make for compelling, head-scratching, compulsive viewing. The Atlanta Falcons, who spectacularly blew the biggest lead in Superbowl history last February have chosen to omit any mention of this calamity on their quest to claim this year’s title. Frankly, that sounds like one of the worst approaches we’ve ever heard. How in the world do you erase memories of the biggest day of your life, regardless of the outcome? Surely, in some way, you learn from these demoralising days.

In any event, it seems unlikely that this approach could be applied in Mayo. Imagine asking players and supporters alike to eradicate all discussion of the heartbreak of 2014 in Limerick, which involved some shocking refereeing, a flopping Kieran Donaghy and a surely unprecedented double TKO involving two Mayo players. Or the Twilight-Zone like beginning to last year’s final where Mayo presented the best team of the decade with a two own-goal head start. Or indeed, in the replay dropping one of the best goalies in the country on the basis of…. well, no one really knows.

Mayo are now eight games deep in this year’s championship and in the space of almost eighty crazy, helter-skelter minutes, they’ve managed to steal all the thunder from an unprecedented All-Ireland hurling final pairing, a bizarre non-suspension and most impressively of all, the upcoming semi-final between Dublin and Tyrone.

In a piece of unwarranted bombast, usually reserved for the likes of Bono, when talking about Bono, Waterford county board chairman, and Austin Gleeson cheerleader Paddy Joe Ryan humbly offered that, “The county needs him (Gleeson), the game needs him and the country needs him”. Mr Ryan probably could have stopped that sentence after four words, particularly in the eyes of Cork and Galway supporters but you can understand that it was a week high on emotion in Waterford.

What the country does need, however, is for this Mayo team to maintain the unquantifiable levels of relentlessness, perseverance and, of course, pure drama in the quest for their elusive goal. Who knows what surprise Rochford and his team will produce next week? Keegan on Donaghy? An entirely new midfield? Whatever it is, the country will watch on in fascination, guaranteed to be left breathless by this unrelentingly entertaining side. And should Mayo notch two more victories in the next three weeks, their very own 30-for-30 documentary is in the bag. The Yanks would lap it up.