Whisper it, but we might just be over the worst of it and maybe, just maybe, a semblance of normality is slowly returning to our lives. We mightn’t be getting an inter-county championship any time soon, but the return of club action in some capacity certainly shouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility. The walkways around many club grounds are re-opening this week while in light of Leo’s announcement yesterday, speculation abounds that club grounds may open sooner than expected. With training sessions involving a limited number of personnel now permitted, it stands to reason that teams at the lowest rung of the GAA ladder, your Junior B’s and Junior C’s of this world, teams with which ‘training in small numbers’ is usually a given, should be the first to dip their toes into the waters of ‘the new normal’.
The bedrock of the GAA in many ways, the hurlers and footballers plying their trade at these levels represent the virtues of our national games in its purest and rawest guise. Unabashed monuments to its traditionalism, they remain untainted by modern contrivances such as pre-season training, foam rollers and third midfielders. Upholders of the GAA’s communal and all-inclusive ethos, it’s only fitting that these regiments should be the first to leave the safety of the trenches and go over the top into the brave new world wielding camáns, their only PPE an old battered Mycro.
The return of Gaelic games at Junior B level, or further down the alphabetical food chain, would allow us the opportunity to ease ourselves back into the swing of things and become re-acquainted with the game at its most rudimentary, before sampling it’s more aesthetic elements at a later date. We’ve even become accustomed to it over the past twelve weeks, having quenched our thirst for sport with old matches from the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. The recent over-indulgence on nostalgia has forced us to re-evaluate the standards with which we had associated some of the game’s most illustrious teams. Limerick v Galway in the 1980 decider, for example, was far from a classic. The same could be said for the titanic battles of the glorious ‘90’s, many of which were relatively lowbrow when compared with the eminence of the modern game.
Yet they were no less compelling in their own right. True perfection has to be imperfect, as some might say, and the crux of the matter is that there will always be a grá for such combative yet error-strewn encounters, encompassing wild pulls, mishit shots and loose-fitting jerseys draped over the odd gut. All of which could soon become readily available once again, but in real-time. Besides, if absence makes the heart grow fonder, you can be sure that action-starved patrons will soon be flocking to Ballinlough to watch Rathpeacon take on Lough Rovers. In the new era of live sport, every game is an All-Ireland Final and no match can be deemed too trivial.
Contrary to many media representations however, the lower echelons of the Junior grade comprise much more than just overweight, bald men with a proclivity for pints. Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of overweight, bald men with a proclivity for pints, but it’s a far broader church than what is caricatured in a Rory’s Stories sketch. The beauty of the GAA at that level is that it caters for all spectrums of society, from the patched-up grizzled veteran to the young fella just out of minor, too wet behind the ears to be thrown in with the first team. Add in your assortment of quintessential mullockers and you’ve quite the eclectic mix.
The quality of the games are probably unappreciated, even allowing for the vastly divergent collection of talents on display. For every player that can’t hurl snow off a rope, there is one that can and wants to hurl, only unburdened by menial obligations such as training or maintaining an adequate level of fitness. Every now and then, with a bit of luck, a proper hurler might even rock up who for one reason or another, is still eligible for the first round of the championship against the ‘Barr’s third team or such likes. He’ll take some poor, unassuming half-back for 2-7 before disappearing again, back to his natural habitat in the first team with the rest of the fancy-dans.
The results too are largely immaterial. Now, that’s not to say that players don’t do their utmost to win every game, it’s just that by the same token, nobody grows up dreaming of winning a Florry McCarthy Cup. As it’s still up in the air at the moment what competition structures will even look like when we do get back, surely the most viable option is to just let the Junior B’s and C’s have at it and figure out the rest later. Just give us any old piece of silverware as a carrot to strive for, some cannister we can fill with cider and pass around…no wait, I suppose those days are definitely over now.
The games can’t come too soon as I fear we’re becoming a dying breed. The enforced closure of pubs coupled with the growth in popularity of self-imposed fitness regimens may have some unforeseen knock-on effects. The current phenomena of ‘B’ players around the city and county running sub-20 minute 5km’s hasn’t gone unnoticed and it won’t be long before these lads, with their new-found Olympic level aerobic capacities, are plucked from the lower grades by the vulturous first-team selectors. So for God’s sake, let us open up the pitches before it’s too late. Open them up and just let us hurl. Or at least attempt to.