99s and Super 8s

Although the GAA championship starts in May, it really doesn’t heat up until the tail end of June. For provinces outside Leinster, you’ll have some sugar and spice on your way to the provincial finals, particularly in Ulster, where even the first round games can throw up some shocks. In Leinster, however, the trend of late, is to endure a period of drudgery up until the provincial final, which inevitably culminates in the ascension of the team from the capital by an eye-watering margin. And out of the Leinster coma stride the Dubs to start their championship proper.

This year, the revised format of the championships in both hurling and football, have given us ample talking points. We’ve all been seduced by the heady heat of hurling fired at us almost weekly. It’s been a joy to watch, and a credit to all those who’ve played it and brought us such entertainment. We’ve ad-libbed about location, location, location. Waterford hurlers not getting a home game, the question of Dublin’s ‘neutrality’ and the battle of Newbridge have generated more column inches and Twitter feed than this summer’s tournament in Russia. Tears were shed as an obituary was written for Mayo in June, a rare occurrence for the perennial runners-up. And further tears poured over broadcasting blunders that saw GAA coverage delayed so that bloody cricket or golf or some shite was captured by Sky instead. It hasn’t been a boring summer thus far.

And still, on the 14thJuly, I have the excitement of a supporter as if it’s only the first game of the season. Dublin play Donegal on the neutral soil of Croker this evening, and there is the unshakeable feeling that this is their first real game of the championship. The summer, in effect, starts this evening (or restarts if, like me, you feel that the hurling and the heatwave have combined, so far, to give us one of the best summers we’ve had in a very long time). Up to now, fans have languished on the sunny sidelines of pitches around the country, freckling and fan-tanning, talking Hawk-Eye over Choc Ices, and interim managers and six day turnarounds and black cards and red cards and blackguards. The US transfer market is doing a roaring trade, as the Mystery of Disappearing Dermo revealed itself.

The prospect of a number of round-robin games, gives us something to look forward to, though it might kill the immediate excitement of the ‘sudden death’ of championship. It has absolutely worked for the hurling series, but hurling is an incredibly sexy sport, whereas gaelic football is just a handsome relative. There is no puke hurling. Blanket defence football on the other hand… Though I have high hopes that this current Donegal side has moved away, somewhat, from the Jimnastics of iron curtain defences. It would be great to have an exciting, free-flowing game to watch this evening, start of summer, restart of summer or whatever you’re having yourself.

Only a few hours to go until I don my jersey and go searching for coins for bus fare. I’ll hit town, grab a cold one and then head in to watch both games, hoping that the Rossies do it in the first one. I’m giddy with excitement and happy-out that we are still there with games to look forward to. Seeing how good Kerry are looking this year, gives me hope that there may be a chunk of competitiveness in this competition yet. They look very sharp. But although I’ll be enjoying 99s throughout the Super 8s and cheering on the Boys in Blue, the new football format only ‘half-solves’ a problem. Yes, combined with the hurling, it’s giving me two summers in one, but for the counties from lower divisions, and in particular those in Leinster, for whom a provincial title seems set to be beyond their grasp for a long time to come, surely a system could be devised to ensure that those teams can also play longer into the summer? Fair is fair, every county deserves to make hay while the sun shines.

vanila sundae with choco on top
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