Hopefully, by the time you read this, we will have some idea of the Allianz hurling and football league schedules.
Our source informs us that the fixtures “should be available late in the week, but the GAA are wary of putting them out too early in case it puts more focus on the return to training”.
Is it something to do with the Irish psyche that clearly laid-out training bans can’t be properly adhered to, as we have seen with high-profile breaches, or is it something that’s innate in all top-level sportsmen and sportswomen, the need to try to get an advantage – fair or unfair – on the competition?
In the wake of the media stories on Dublin and Monaghan being photographed training, there was a joke that went around that Kerry County Board had suspended manager Peter Keane for *not* breaking the ban, but the serious under-current is that, if you have two big fish being caught in the act, it’s probably safe to say that others are at it, too.
It’s somewhat dispiriting during a global pandemic that rules can’t be adhered to. Stiffer sanctions would act as more of a deterrent, but instead we have suspensions for managers handed down by their own counties, with players getting away with it, bar perhaps the concession of a home advantage in the league – not that lack of gate receipts will affect county boards.
What comes out of the GAA’s own investigation remains to be seen.
The Gaelic Players’ Association has been notable by its silence after the revelations. At a time when leadership is needed, it’s disappointing that they have not been able to provide it.
While the draft master fixture plan published by the GAA last week was encouraging, it’s important to bear in mind that everything is, as ever, predicated on things improving, or at least not getting worse. County teams blithely ignoring the restrictions currently in place is certainly not great for optics from that point of view.
Last week, we opined how it would be unfair if the cancellation of the Leinster-Toulon game put an asterisk next to a potential Heineken Champions Cup victory for Leo Cullen’s side.
Any notions of a tarnished title can certainly be put to bed after the manner of Saturday’s victory over Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park. Without some key names before the game, an early 14-0 deficit made the task harder, combined with the loss of captain and out-half Jonathan Sexton.
It would have been understandable if such obstacles proved too difficult to overcome, but what followed was something to rank with any of the province’s great days.
Jordan Larmour’s two tries were proof of his upward trajectory while Ross Byrne showed incredible maturity in terms of game management after replacing Sexton.
At hooker, Rónán Kelleher belied his 23 years with an awesome performance.
It all adds up to a semi-final clash with La Rochelle after Ronan O’Gara’s side blew Sale away on a 45-21 scoreline. Far too often, sportswriters let themselves down by saying that, ‘This script couldn’t be written!’ – the idea of Leinster meeting O’Gara for a place in the final could definitely have been
conjured up by someone with an eye for drama, but it doesn’t make it any less tantalising a prospect.
How do you know when it’s springtime? Some people might go for the traditional sound of the cuckoo in the trees, but in golf terms it’s when the media start to talk about Rory McIlroy winning the ‘career grand slam’.
Having already claimed the US Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship, the Down native needs only the Masters Tournament to complete the set and so each April, the build-up to events at Augusta, Georgia includes some focus on McIlroy’s quest.
Obviously, McIlroy’s experience at the 2011 tournament, where he led going into the back nine on Sunday only to collapse and finish in a tie for 15th, underpins everything. But, while he has had six top-ten finishes at Augusta since, he hasn’t properly contended again and missed the cut in last week’s event, won by Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama.
In fact, since winning the 2014 Open and PGA back-to-back, the Ulsterman’s only other podium finish in a major was a tie for second at the 2018 Open but even that was more down to a surge after a poor start rather than being firmly in the final-day mix.
In an ideal world, he would be allowed to prepare quietly for the Masters without any distractions but that’s not how the media works and 2011 will always be a millstone until he does claim a green jacket.
McIlroy remains in the upper echelons of the world rankings but he has only won one tournament since the 2016 Irish Open and is in need of some kind of jolt to get him back playing near his best.
Shane Lowry finished in a tie for 21st at Augusta, a weekend with some bright spots but ultimately a sense of not having made the most of his opportunity. The Open champion expressed concerns afterwards regarding the prospects for the Irish Open, given the new quarantining laws, but thankfully Monday brought news that elite sport is exempt from them.
Of course, beyond the identity of the participants, the big variable with the Irish Open is of course how many spectators will be allowed to attend. I went to the Spanish Open in 2016 and it might as well have been a local tournament qualifier, such was the paucity of the galleries, but the Irish Open is always a crowd-puller.
It wouldn’t be the same without the big numbers, but then that’s something that we’ve become used to in so many sporting aspects over the past year.