The uncertainty for players is okay for one or two weeks, or even three weeks, but when you start going into the unknown territory of not knowing when you’re going to be back or indeed when the championship is going to kick off, that’s when it starts to really play with your head.
All kinds of thoughts will be entering the players’ heads now. Stuff like ‘what should I do next’. The longer this lockdown goes on, I think a lot more worried players will be. It’s not just tough for players as it is also challenging for the likes of the referees, who also need time to prepare for these big games coming up. They need time to get ready and not be just thrown into a match.
This week, Feargal McGill said that the GAA are looking at a mid-June start and if that is the case, then players are going to have be given time to prepare for the start of the championship. They need some sort of timeline to get ready for these games. If we’re looking at a mid-June start, then players are going to need to know four to five weeks in advance to prepare.
At the moment, everything has been pushed back to at least April 19th before any more decisions are made and hopefully there will be a bit more clarity then. As of now, we’ve had three weeks of no activity, with also the likes of gyms now being closed, and with another three weeks before the next decision is made, that’ll be six weeks without any action for the players. There’s only so much running you can do and there’s only so much ball work in the alley you can do as well.
Joe Canning said that it’s the high-intensity stuff, like tackling, which will get you over the line in the big games and I agree with him.
There are loads of obstacles that players are going to have to overcome between now and the start of the championship. These times are very challenging for everybody involved.
I remember back to the ‘foot & mouth’ in 2001 and what happened then. It was my first year with Waterford but that only lasted three or four weeks and they were able to overcome that and get everything played off. That year was the last year we had a straight knockout system in the championship, except for the beaten provincial finalists. And that’s what I envisage will happen this year too.
I know that the GAA are hoping to have the All Ireland finals on the scheduled dates in August and a mid-June start would give them a window of eight weeks or so to run off the championship. Can you run off the championship in eight weeks?
The only way of doing that is using the model of the current U20 Hurling Championship and to me, that would make it a cracking championship.
What that would envisage would be the five teams in each province (Leinster & Munster) and effectively, it would be a straight knockout until the provincial finals. Then it’s a case that in the All Ireland semi-finals, the winners of Munster would play the runners-up in Leinster and Leinster champions would play the beaten Munster finalists. You could do that in eight weeks and there would also be two-week breaks in between matches in both provinces too.
If we have a mid-June start, that would work perfectly and the championship would be completed by August 19th as scheduled. If the GAA don’t start in mid-June, it’s not the end of the world as finishing in mid-September can be done. If you remember back in 2013, the championship didn’t finish until late September after the final between Cork and Clare went to a replay so if things don’t start in mid-June, as planned, it’s not a massive negative.
With regard to a knockout championship, I’ve no doubt that there would be a massive appetite from the general public from the very start. Anybody who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, like me, will tell you about the ‘do-or-die’ games back then. They were unbelievable and if we went back to that format, you could potentially have Limerick and Tipperary going head-to-head in the first round of the Munster Championship with the losers being gone for the year.
Likewise in Leinster with Kilkenny and Wexford in a straight knockout first round championship clash. I think this format would be a massive runner and a big success and while this might have an effect on the club scene, what about also having the same knockout system for the club championships in each county as well? That’s how it happened when I was growing up and I think there would be a massive appetite for that as well.
There are so many dead-rubbers in clubs games these days that having these knockout games from the start would not only be hugely exciting but they would generate an awful lot of revenue within counties as well.
And if we get a straight knockout championship, what counties would it suit? Well, my own county Waterford have probably suffered a bit since the new system came in as they seemed to fare better with the old way. The slightly lesser powerful counties might be suited better where they only have to target one match to get to a Leinster or Munster final. The likes of Clare and Dublin too might benefit from going back to a straight knockout system.
Some of the counties which are finding it harder to win under the new system, I think having a straight knockout championship would give them a better chance of winning an All Ireland.