The club GAA season is winding down – the year is over for all but the lucky few who have won their county championships and advanced to the provincial competitions.
In the same way that many political careers end in campaign failure, even the county champions are forced to end with defeat, unless of course they are the ones going up the steps of the Hogan Stand, to be crowned All-Ireland club champions in their given grade or code.
It’s a bit like a video game, where the reward for finishing a level is to face an even tougher level – after training all year to get to the top of the tree in your county, you go out into the province to pit your wits against even better opposition.
So it was for Sarsfields of Cork last Sunday, defeated by a star-studded Ballygunner side in the Munster Club SHC. Ballygunner have been untouchable in Waterford for the last decade, with a 53-match unbeaten run on Suirside.
Having battled so hard to win a Munster title – their 2018 victory came after five final defeats since their sole previous win in 2001 – they have won three of the last five and are now targeting three in a row.
Their coach David Franks is about to take up a similar role as part of the new Wexford senior hurling management, and they have former Galway hurler Tony Óg Regan as their sports psychologist. It’s a high-powered set-up and it will take a well-prepared outfit to topple them.
Similarly, in the Leinster Club SFC last Saturday night, an Éire Óg side that has won five of the last seven Carlow titles were held to four points by a Kilmacud Crokes team that have won the last three Dublin titles and are aiming for the same in the province.
It’s almost at the stage that, in order to properly challenge for provincial and All-Ireland honours, a club needs to be dominant in their county, which is of course, to the detriment of the competitiveness of their club championship.
There is a chance that the All-Ireland club football semi-finalists will feature the last three winners of the competition – Kilmacud, Galway’s Corofin and Down’s Kilcoo – along with the Munster representatives.
The southern province is something of an outlier this year, in that traditional powerhouses like Nemo Rangers and Dr Crokes are absent. Of the sides left, Tipperary’s Clonmel Commercials are the most recent champions, lifting the trophy in 2015.
It should make for an open field as Clonmel, Castlehaven, Dingle, Rathgormack, Cratloe and Newcastle West battle it out – but, equally, it will probably mean that they fall short in the All-Ireland, given the experience they are likely to be facing.
The teams that have reached such a high standard deserve to be applauded; equally, one would hope that we are not headed for the era of the ‘super club’, with top honours roped off for all but a handful of top clubs.
One element of the provincial club championships that we are very much in favour of is the fact that clubs can host their matches, provided that there is a suitable stand at the venue.
Castlehaven will host Cratloe this Sunday – in the Munster intermediate football. Another Cork club, Cill na Martra, take on Kilmihil at their home ground, too – and that should make for great occasions.
It’s an oddity of the GAA that, in a lot of counties, clubs have developed fine facilities but, because championship games are held at neutral venues, their own players are all but guaranteed never to get a chance to play a big, meaningful game there.
Kudos to the counties that have gone down the route of having home-and-away fixtures – hopefully more will follow.
On Monday, Sport Ireland announced the release of its updated Women in Sport Policy.
The intention is to build on the original policy, launched in March of 2019, aimed at enhancing the involvement of women in sports and sports administration.
After a comprehensive review of the existing policy and engaging with an independent consultant, the new document seeks to bring about gender balance on the boards of sporting organisations, cultivating cultures that recognise the fundamental importance of women’s contributions. It also seeks to create opportunities and support structures that encourage sustained participation in sports by women and girls of all ages and backgrounds and address the high drop-out rates among teenage girls.
The visibility and profile of women’s sports and women in sports will seek to be increased, while the coaching and officiating base will be broadened to include more women and girls at all levels, from grassroots to high performance.
Since the introduction of the Irish Sports Monitor in 2007, the gender gap in sports participation has narrowed from 15.7 percent to five percent. The hope is it will be eradicated by 2027.
As is the way of these things, the first two people quoted were politicians - Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin TD and Minister of State for Sport and Physical Education, Thomas Byrne TD – along with the chief executive of Sport Ireland, Dr Úna May and former Ireland rugby international Nora Stapleton, who is a director of Sport Ireland and its women in sport lead.
All expressed optimism for the new policy but, once the fanfare subsides, the proof will be in the numbers – a crude measurement but ultimately, an accurate one.