One of my favourite GAA-related sayings is that league is league and championship is championship.
In purely literal terms, it obviously makes sense as two truisms but there is a deeper context which any aficionado will implicitly understand. It’s all well and good to shoot the lights out in the spring – in a normal year, anyway – but the summer is a different kettle of fish.
So, as impressive and all as Antrim’s win over Clare was, and Cork’s five-goal haul against Waterford conjuring memories of Seánie O’Leary and Kevin Hennessy, we will be reserving judgement until we have seen some more hurling.
Similarly, the new rules relating to cynical fouling must have more exposure before any pronouncements can be made, given that they didn’t have a huge impact on the opening weekend, despite the commotion their implementation caused.
Laois’s Lee Cleere made an unwanted bit of history on Sunday as he was the first hurler to be sent to the sin-bin, having hauled down Wexford’s Rory O’Connor. The O’Moore County goalkeeper, Enda Rowland, did save the resultant penalty from Lee Chin, though Davy Fitzgerald’s side still won as they liked, triumphing by 4-17 to 0-10.
There weren’t any goalscoring opportunities denied in Saturday’s marquee game, Limerick against Tipperary at the LIT Gaelic Grounds, but the other new rule, regarding the use of advantage, was a factor.
It has probably gone under the radar somewhat due to the other changes, but essentially a referee can now only play advantage if they consider that a goalscoring chance will accrue, or – and the interpretation of this is likely to cause some debate – if the team going forward are able to create or capitalise on time and space.
After his side’s draw with Tipp, Limerick manager John Kiely made the fair point that time will be needed to adjust to the alterations, they are as new to referees as they are to anybody else and the officials have had downtime, too.
However, there did seem to be a subtext to his comments that, while it might be okay for the refs to make a mistake or two in the bedding-in period, things better be right for championship.
It always seems to be the way that players and management will have an error forgiven, but we expect flawlessness from those making the decisions. Of course, it’s easier to single them out when they don’t have any supporters per se and an external scapegoat is always preferable to having to look within.
Incidentally, Limerick wore a special green-and-white hooped jersey against Tipp, commemorating the first winning of the Liam MacCarthy Cup in the 1921 championship (though the final itself wasn’t played until 1923, due to the outbreak of the Civil War).
Unfortunately, little consideration was given to those looking to identify the players – such as journalists present or those watching on TV – as the shirts had gold numbers, which were almost illegible against the green and white. Then again, a century ago, no players had numbers on their backs, so we should be thankful for some bit of progress.
This weekend sees the football league return. And, while the reduction of each eight-team division into four-team sections based on geography, along with the proximity to championship, adds to the feeling of this being a glorified pre-season, there is another consideration to take into account.
Later this year, a decision will be made on the format for the 2022 football championship, with one of the possibilities being that the league would effectively become the championship.
There is a lot of merit to the idea – not least the fact that teams would have more meaningful games against opponents of similar quality – and it’s something we will focus on closer to the time. However, the impact on things now is that the rankings for such a championship would be based on the finishing positions at the end of this year’s truncated league.
So, while managers would like to use the games as a tune-up for the real thing, there could well be an underlying reason to ensure that they are treated with a certain level of seriousness.
Last week, we lamented how negative stories pertaining to women’s Gaelic games tend to draw the spotlight, so it was great to read on Monday that State funding for inter-county camogie and ladies’ football players is to be put on a par with that received by their male counterparts.
Up until now, male GAA players received a grant of €1,200 per year, with female counterparts receiving just €400, as if to underline the imbalance between how the two are seen.
Obviously, this one move won’t solve things on its own, but it is a positive indicator of the moves being made to increase the recognition of the effort put in by women who play elite Gaelic sport.
As the Minister of State for Sport, Jack Chambers TD, put it when speaking to Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio 1: “We need to make sure there is no artificial glass ceiling when it comes to sport.”