The GAA season is slowly picking up momentum. Here in Donegal, teams have now two league games under their belts which will have been used to shake off the cobwebs for this weekend’s championship.
It’s difficult to gauge how much appetite there is amongst the players for football given the late start, the uncertainty regarding the coronavirus and the condensed fixture list. I’ve been chatting to quite a few players during the week and their views are mixed. Still, I believe that getting back to some semblance of normality can only benefit our players and spectators alike both physically and psychologically.
The GAA here in Donegal have taken the appropriate measures to ensure the safety and welfare of the players and supporters alike. To get back out on the playing field is a blessing in itself but we cannot lose sight of the fact that the virus is still very much active. This weekend’s championship will add spice to the season and should invigorate all of us who have missed our sport so much this past few months.
As I stated last week, I’m not so sure about playing the All-Ireland inter-county championships. Again, there are mixed feelings amongst the players. As a supporter, I want and would love the inter-county championships to proceed but, we must be fair to our players in respect of their welfare. If one player contracts the virus, how will this impact on his or her teammates. Will it mean that the particular county will have be all tested and even have to opt out of the championship altogether? This would affect all ensuing games. There are indeed many scenarios that could arise. But let’s proceed with a positive outlook. The necessary protocols may be inconvenient but it is better to be cautious. All in all, it’s great to be back.
Having toured the county for many weeks while GAA playing activity was on hold, I learned so much from those clubs that I featured in my weekly Donegal Democrat column. Sooner or later, the GAA will have to settle this issue surrounding club and county. Whilst we all love the inter-county football; we can never forget our grassroots – the club. They are our nurseries where our county players are raised, nurtured and moulded into the end product that wears the county jersey.
The all-county club leagues and championships are the foundation on which our inter-county teams are built. Our games and structure are unique. I don’t know of any other game that is based on parish boundaries with community as it’s core. This formula instils belonging and identity. It provides a healthy social outlet for neighbours and families. Friendly rivalries emerge between neighbouring parishes. I believe it is a true and honest sport that is always played with pride and passion for the club.
Most club players don’t make the grade to inter-county standard. These players get little recognition, yet they commit week in and week out for the love of our games. Making the grade to inter-county level is irrelevant to most of them. I met many of the clubs’ administrators this past number of weeks on my travels. Clubs are constantly fundraising, knocking on the same doors year after year. All clubs are under enormous financial stress.
Club members voluntarily give up their time to ensure the club functions throughout the season. I was more than impressed with the standard of facilities at most grounds nowadays. The love for the club and the spirit of the community is still very much alive even if many of our post offices, banks, community hospitals and garda stations have disappeared. Because of the current situation, we have been able to focus on the clubs and appreciate our local community. Many of the country’s GAA clubs were at the forefront of this pandemic by helping out in their community in different forms.
I feel that there will be a separation of club from county. It’s unfair to keep putting managers and players in a position where they have to chose one over the other. In a proper season under the current structure, there is plenty of football for the elite inter-county teams. Player welfare is surely the main consideration.
We are basically following the rugby template. I believe that there will be a further breakaway between the elite teams and the rest. A new professional era isn’t too far away. People unfamiliar with the ethos of the GAA are astounded to learn that inter-county players don’t get paid for play. My friend Lebona from southern Africa came to a few of the Donegal senior team’s training sessions with me when I was a player. He was gobsmacked that we played for “nothing”. We played for the pride of the jersey. The current players still do. I don’t think that this situation will last much longer. I would have loved if Lebona had witnessed just one of Jim McGuinness’s training sessions in 2012. He would surely think that we were mad.
I would like to wish all teams the very best for the forthcoming championship. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of drama, thrills and spills.
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