Oisin Langan explains why it's ok to love pre-season GAA competitions
No one is out of the Championship. No one has been relegated. If your team does lose it doesn’t matter as a thousand excuses are readily available to explain a defeat in a competition that doesn’t matter anyway. Those are just some of the reasons I love this time of year.
Lets face it, the structure is all wrong and requires urgent change. At this time of the year though, we put those thoughts to one side as we’re just glad to get out to watch our counties come to life as the Christmas tree discolours before being removed, like the unwanted eye sore the once beautiful green ornament was. Instead of wasting yet another day on the couch, I decided to head to Newbridge on Sunday, where Kildare played DIT in Cian O’Neill’s first competitive match in charge.
The Lillywhites are a great example of the new year bringing hope, regardless of how the last ended. One could say the same of Clare and Cork who played each other in Sixmilebridge, or Laois who faced UCD in Rathniesksa. Changes to the management or management structure have us examining team selection and tactics deeply, with an imaginary asterisk in place: “the real judgement will come in the Championship”.
Managers will tell you that repetition is important however, so we don’t have to write it off if we notice that Kildare played long diagonals and kicked more, while for Clare, Shane O’Donnell found his goal scoring touch. If that’s what they are doing now then that’s what they’ll want to do when it counts. But it also counts now, because if you don’t develop your style then you won’t have one come crunch time.
Supporters are reflected in flood waters in front of the main stand in Enniscorty as Wexford faced Dublin in the O'Byrne Cup last weekend. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer
This time of year is also when the GAA fan does their version of slogging in the muddy fields with warm summer days in mind. If there’s a better feeling in the summer than telling someone that the impressive Championship debutant was doing that since the FBD League, then I have yet to experience it.
The pre-season competitions also fuel the cries of injustice from the ticketless fan at All Ireland time. "I was even in Enniscorthy to watch them play Wexford in January, but as usual the real fans are forgotten about".
Some fans are hard done by, but some are more hard done by than others and the early season GAA follower will let you know that at every available opportunity.
By the time the summer comes around, you’ve remembered how awful the system is, how futile a good league can be if your team has to wait two months between competitions, and how irrelevant most Championship games actually are.
Maybe it’s my brain's way of pacing itself for the year ahead, but despite all that, I like to get excited at this time of the season. Could Wexford come within ten points of Dublin in a serious game? HELL NO! Was I excited for them on Sunday when they drew? Absolutely.
These games will soon be forgotten and, as cruel as it sounds, so will some of the players who feature in them. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy them, so wrap up warm and get out and watch these games. When you regale your fellow fans with stories of winter football, or point out the players who could have made a difference in a tight Championship match after impressing earlier in the year, your inner GAA snob will thank you for it.
Besides, even if you disagree with everything I have just written, Michael Foley wrote an excellent piece in last week's Sunday Times detailing how the proceeds of these games go to various charities and people who need a helping hand, so that in itself is reason to get out and watch.