no middle ground | 

Pat Spillane: Split season should be tweaked for sake of the association

It is a good idea and was needed, but a compromise is now required

Conor Glass of Glen was impressive against Kilcoo of Down in the Ulster club SFC final. Photo: Ben McShane/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Not many fans were present at the Munster club SFC final between Newcastle West and Kerins O’Rahillys. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

27 November 2022; Ciaran Cannon of Clonmel Commercials is shown a black card by referee David Murnane during the AIB Munster GAA Football Senior Club Championship Semi-Final match between Clonmel Commercials and Newcastle West at FBD Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Michael P Ryan/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Pat SpillaneSunday World

Kevin O’Donovan, the CEO of the Cork GAA Board said recently the split season may have been the GAA’s finest moment.

He pointed out it had resulted in the GAA’s best players returning to play games in their communities while there was still plenty of light left in the summer evenings.

He suggested these games played in far corners of a county were a local delicacy. So, it was all the more important to cherish them.

Firstly, let me remind Kevin that the split season happened by accident. It would never have been accepted by the GAA but for the chaos Covid-19 caused during 2020.

Long before the pandemic, we down here in Kerry operated an ad hoc split season.

Club league competitions were played during the National Football League without the county players.

Then, once Kerry exited the Championship, the county players returned to play with their clubs for the local championships. And the system worked well.

In Cork, drisheen is a local delicacy.

There are various recipes but essentially it is cow’s, pig’s or sheep’s blood mixed with milk, fat, and salt. It is boiled and sieved, and finally cooked using the main intestine of an animal – typically a pig or sheep.

How do I know this? Because my late mother loved it. It looked awful, and tasted just as bad.

It might be a celebrated Cork delicacy – but I doubt it is eaten much by Cork people nowadays.

Road bowling is another Cork delicacy, particularly in the west of the county, but it’s also in decline.

Local delicacies have a history of stagnation – and tend to disappear. So be careful what you wish for.

The retiring Tipperary GAA Secretary Tim Flood is also a big fan of the split season, judging by what he wrote in his annual report.

“It galls me to hear TV pundits and sports journalists criticise the current system as giving away our best promotion months of August and September.

“Our club games from July to December are as good a promotional tool, when you consider the number of games being played every weekend,” he wrote.

Not many fans were present at the Munster club SFC final between Newcastle West and Kerins O’Rahillys. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

He recalled sitting in the middle of the Inniscarra supporters in Semple Stadium when they lost to Roscrea in the Munster Intermediate Club Championship.

“Their passion and enthusiasm in the middle of a cold November Saturday was a joy to see,” he wrote.

I wonder was he in Semple Stadium for the Munster Football semi-final between Clonmel Commercials and Newcastle West along with the paltry attendance, which equated to two men and a dog.

And what about the Munster final in Mallow last Saturday, when there was another pitiful attendance.

And I’m told the TV audience for these live club games is extremely low.

So, let’s not over-egg the claim that club games are a great promotional tool for the GAA.

Unfortunately, the debate about the split season reminds me of the ill-fated Brexit controversy in the UK.

The opposing sides are so entrenched there is no middle ground.

Here’s my final take on the topic for this year.

In theory I think it is a good idea and was needed. But now it most definitely needs to be tweaked.

There must be compromise on both sides. I would gladly stop writing about the split season if the All-Ireland hurling and football finals were played on the last two Sundays in August.

The current arrangement presents a particular challenge for dual clubs and dual players, and these need to be addressed.

Back to matters on the field and last weekend’s two provincial club finals, which were as different as chalk and cheese.

I’m not a fan of the kind of football we witnessed in the Ulster decider between Glen of Derry and Kilcoo from Down.

Nonetheless, I found myself being sucked into what was an absorbing contest. I couldn’t take my eyes off the television.

And judging by the match reports, the off-the-ball activity, which didn’t feature on TV, was equally fascinating.

The defensive nature of the football was reflected in the fact that there was a mere 32 shots on goal in the entire game.

Kilcoo had just seven kicks at the Glen goal in the first half.

Yet, but for a missed penalty, they would have led at half-time.

The game was full-on in terms of intensity, physicality and ferocious hits – both on and off the ball.

The fitness levels of the players and their work rate was remarkable.

At times, the game was virtually impossible to referee.

Glen deserved to win – they started magnificently and finished strongly as well.

In Conor Glass and Emmett Bradley, they have the best midfield pairing in the competition.

Their tackling, full-court press on the Kilcoo kick-out, and ability to turnover the ball, was terrific.

Remarkably, seven of their 13 scores originated from turnovers – even though Kilcoo are one of the best in the business at minding the ball.

The quality of their defensive play was such that no Kilcoo forward scored from play.

For a small rural club, what Kilcoo have achieved is amazing – winning ten of the last 11 Down Championships, two Ulsters and one All-Ireland.

I’m not an admirer of their system of play. But hey, it gets results, so who am I to argue.

One of the big flaws in their game plan came to the fore last Sunday.

It is not effective when they are chasing a lead. It is far more effective when they are defending one, which is why it was so important for Glen to build up an early lead.

I didn’t like the antics Kilcoo got up to.

Players were lying down, feigning injury, in order to run down the clock when Paul Devlin was in the sin bin, and their off-the-ball antics against Conor Glass were most certainly not in the spirit of the game.

I’m afraid the Munster final between Kerins O’Rahillys and Newcastle West was like a junior final compared to the action in the Athletic Grounds.

The first half was awful – Kerins O’Rahillys failed to score from play; Newcastle West managed 0-2.

A game of football broke out in the second half, when the teams decided to utilise their respective target men on the edge of the square – Tommy Walsh and Mike McMahon.

The latter scored one goal and could have had a hat-trick, while Walsh scored one and laid on the other major for the winners.

The class of Walsh, together with the other 34-year-old on the Tralee team David Moran, was the difference, though Newcastle West will forever regret converting just nine of their 23 chances.

PS: The two games highlighted two rule anomalies which need to be addressed.

The 10-minute sin-bin rule must be changed to 10 minutes playing time to prevent teams from running down the clock by feigning injury.

It is compulsory for players to wear mouth guards, but the rule is being flouted. In the Munster final I saw a couple of subs remove their mouth guard and tuck it into their sock after coming on.

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