WHEN shoulder season rolled around, many local sports journalists celebrated the move. While the Dr McKenna Cup produced some decent football and did a good job of chasing the post-Christmas blues away, it would still be one of the first competitions to drop.
In truth, our laptops felt a bit heavier during McKenna Cup group games on very cold Saturday nights. Probably like a player’s bag walking into a freezing locker room in January.
There was a time when the whole inter-county gig got out of hand. And we all remember the Fiadh cup before Christmas.
It’s hard to believe we’ve been through this madness and the GAA let it happen and talked about player burnout at the same time. The inter-county season was lengthening and becoming a joyless quest for players and supporters.
It took a global pandemic to make sense of the GAA calendar. While the extended inter-county season was a lucrative prospect for some, having virtually half the year handed over to clubs was cause for celebration on so many levels.
County players also let out a huge sigh of relief and were no longer being pulled in different directions. I have spoken to many players in the county since forming the new shoulder season and they are really excited to feel like a full member of their club team again.
The shoulder season also offered new opportunities for local journalists. They would no longer be handcuffed to a succession of press days and nights where the same players from the same teams were deployed.
Media training would kick in and a big bag of clichés would be shamelessly poured into our recording devices.
Who would actually read this stuff and feel informed?
The vice-like choreography of these events killed our minds a long time ago. If there was one way to market your wares, this wasn’t it.
It has literally reached the point where you have run out of questions to ask those same players.
Meanwhile, new players were kept out of the media spotlight like scared lambs.
So everything got tired and jaded.
For more than two decades in this job, the club’s season – permanently tight as it was – has become the most enjoyable aspect of this line of work.
The county championships, the high road to the provincials, the narrow path to all of Ireland for the lucky few, the incredible trips that take place every winter.
From Cushendun to Mullinalaghta, every GAA club could understand each other’s journey and wanted to share and celebrate it.
In those fleeting moments of success, they could all remember the lean years – because everyone has lean years – and rebuild from nothing.
There were so many rich tales that were dying to be told. Clubs trying to end famines, players and teams climbing mountains across the country. Fall and regroup and climb again.
Dunloy’s throwing director Gregory O’Kane summed it up perfectly after guiding the Cuchullains to a third straight county title last month.
“People,” he says, “talk about clubs; really and truly these are just families when you think about it. Without it, we are nothing. And this is the GAA.
The shoulder season is a wide and open highway of opportunity for clubs – where they are no longer an afterthought due to the crowded nature of the schedule, where the media attention can be on them, because you just don’t know. never the next time they will come knocking on the door to celebrate some families climbing mountains together and leaving the archives of an unforgettable winter.
For some, it may be 50 years before the small backcountry club climbs mountain peaks again and attracts a larger audience.
Sadly, the club circuit loses its innocence.
Gradually, he became infected with the inter-county scene where club directors close the door to media exposure and swear their players to shut up.
“If our opponents don’t speak ‘meedja’ – we don’t speak ‘meedja’.”
I can only speak of over 20 years of experience, but a newspaper article never decided on a great game.
Some managers may disagree, but I don’t believe them. They are just giving some members of the media an inflated opinion of themselves and exaggerating their influence when, really and truly, all we do in preparation and on game day is to paint the color a little bit. opportunity.
There is desperate insecurity about media bans and the denial of players and their families to celebrate uplifting journeys. Journeys of life.
Of course, media exposure is not everyone’s business. Some people really like to keep their heads down.
Likewise, not all of the club’s teams are silent at the first glance of a journalist.
Take Erin’s Own, Cargin for example. Although they were dethroned in a memorable county semi-final by neighbors Creggan of Kickham last weekend, they had no problem speaking to the press.
Tomas McCann has spoken freely about their historic rivalry with St. Gallen ahead of their recent quarter-final meeting.
After the game, Michael Magill spoke about how the recent passing of his father gave him the strength to come out of retirement and pursue another county championship.
In all fairness, the control madness of some – not all – club managers has gotten out of hand.
They readily portrayed the horrible “meedja” as a bunch of spinning tops hidden in the bushes, ready to pounce, ready to distort and disfigure the true image.
Media bans don’t make sense, and they never will. It’s a tactic as old as the hills.
Clubs lucky to reach the final stages of the county championships should embrace these days, not fear them in any form.
They must be experienced in the fullest sense.
Because when the dust settles and careers are firmly in the background, it will be a real shame that there are more and more empty scrapbooks that did not celebrate this unforgettable winter.