The soccer championship kicks off with an almighty whimper this weekend. Yes, the All-Ireland champion started the show last night but it was against a Division 3 team, whereas today there are three Division 4 teams in action along with New York who have no division at all. So the mouse roared. The vast majority of people won’t even realize that the championship has begun.
The hurling championship, which features some real blockbusters, does the heavy lifting for the first few weeks. The price of football looks pretty drab in comparison.
The other thing about the hurling championship is that there are maybe six or eight contenders, but in football you don’t need a thumb on one hand to count them. Just round up the usual suspects – Kerry, Dublin, Tyrone, who have won 18 of the last 20 combined. They are the true competitors again.
Then you can add a few others out of respect – Mayo, Galway, Armagh, Donegal, Kildare. You still don’t have to go for the toes. “How many toes does a pig have, son?” our Latin teacher asked a young man in my class who was struggling with Virgil’s famous book Aeneid. When the answer came that he didn’t know how many toes a pig had, he was told to take off his boot and count them. It took a while before we understood what he meant. It wasn’t very pretty.
So toes are not necessary. I’ll just go with the big three. If anyone else wins the All-Ireland this year, the final will likely be played at Knock or Lourdes. I am writing all of this more in sadness than desperation, but it’s hard to imagine football akin to skidding anytime soon, with a number of teams left to dream of glory at this time of year. However, it is not enough to give up. Nothing lasts forever, but Dublin’s disrupted dominance by Tyrone may only be temporarily holding back the next great power, Kerry. If they win this year, they will complete a sequence.
It is therefore difficult to have a great start to a championship that is out of reach for so many. Additionally, most GAA folks have a hard time focusing on a championship that starts in April and ends in July. I don’t think the clubs needed that much space and I genuinely think this whole schedule will need to be revised next year when a lot more games are added.
I can speak with some authority on this subject as I am a senior team manager. There are those who seem to think that only district football is happening at the moment and clubs will start in July. That’s not the case at all. At Meath, a club league guarantees around 11 games from March to June. Without our two district players, we tip away very well and are also close to two more on the panel under 20.
They will all be back for the championship in August. By June, most county players will be back with their clubs anyway. There is no rush for the All-Ireland Finals in July. It could easily go back a month and all of us at club level would be happy as club players only want games at this time of year. Most districts are likely to only guarantee clubs three league games, so an August or September start is fine.
Of far greater importance this year is the Tailteann Cup. It’s more important than the race for Sam as almost everyone involved will have a chance of winning. But will they bother? There’s a chance to get it right, and if it goes wrong this year, the show’s over.
To make anything successful it has to be marketed properly and I haven’t heard a word about advertising. Some might say that you can’t market something before it starts, but the opposite is true here. Most of the teams that will play in it are already known. Five of the six playing this weekend will be there. What kind of competition will it be and how will the players benefit?
That’s the question players will be grappling with. With most of the players from the Tailteann Cup circles set to be eliminated at the All Ireland Championship in May, they will have choices to make. If you’re a student, your choice is between the United States and the Tailteann Cup. Clubs across the US have already been recruiting and there will be a flood of young men heading west this summer after being locked up for two years.
Larry McCarthy should know this better than anyone. Now, if the Tailteann Cup isn’t advertised with a tour for the finalists, money for county boards, a separate All Stars, and an entirely different sponsor, then these third-grade students will quickly decide this is a Mickey Mouse competition for losers is. They would love to spend their summers in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Toronto or any other North American city.
The best players are offered a ticket, a job, and some maybe even a few bucks. Everyone gets a free education about life. Clubs will suffer even more, but don’t let that discourage you. I know it too well but we don’t own anyone and the best thing to do as a club manager is to wish them well and hope they get home soon enough to compete in the club championship.
County teams don’t have that luxury, but unless there are some steps to make the Tailteann Cup attractive, it would be better and easier to play the whole thing in New York.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/gaelic-football/boys-of-summer-could-be-heading-west-early-41560178.html Boys of Summer might head west early