Is There A Point to Pre-Season GAA Tournaments?

After seeing UCD defeat the Dubs in Parnell, David Kent found himself debating whether it was worth it.[br]WE hear all of the arguments in September when Dublin get to the All-Ireland semi-finals or further. The ‘diehard’ fans aren’t able to get their hands onto the precious tickets because of the supposed bandwagon getting there ahead of them. The big argument you always hear is that ‘they weren’t there in January’. But is there a good reason to show up to Parnell Park, or Tralee in the winter months? Are they that important?The managers of the major GAA counties certainly don’t care that much about them. That’s not just a generalisation. It’s not even a harsh statement. The signs are everywhere.Let’s take the Dubs as an example again. They were beaten by UCD in the second game of their O’Byrne Cup campaign. That’s a brilliant result, UCD are the first team to beat Dublin since Longford at the same stage last year, the back-to-back All-Ireland champions. Wait, no. The All-Ireland winning Dublin squad were on holiday at the time. Jim Gavin wasn’t even at Parnell Park, instead deputising the role of manager to Paul Clarke.So it’s evident that the managers don’t really consider the pre-season important. We can even see that from the team selections of most of the ‘bigger’ GAA counties. Be very surprised if you see half of the starting Mayo squad in their FBD League campaign still around when they inevitably win Connacht to get to the All-Ireland quarters.And as for the smaller counties, if you’re from Leitrim or Carlow, the chances are you’re going to play a quarter of your season in the space of two weeks, unless you pull out a miracle in the provincial championships. Good luck with that.
“If you’re at the top level of inter-county football, your season is probably going to last nine months from January.”
Now let’s look at the players. We’ve seen the issue of player burnout come up a lot recently, particularly for the younger players that have to deal with college tournaments, under-21 championships and then whatever comes up with their county. So much so that the historic Club Players Association has been formed in order to try and protect them (well, the gaelic football players at least).If you’re at the top level of inter-county football, your season is probably going to last nine months from January. Particularly if you play for a decent club side as well.A club might have several months gap between one championship game and the next, with players not knowing when they might be able to go away on holiday or take breaks - and the elongated inter-county season is arguably much to blame for this.Anyone who saw the ridiculous ‘contract’ put forward by St. Brigid’s in Dublin is aware of this. And they’re a relatively successful club in a successful county. It’s the stuff of wonder for the likes of Ratoath in Meath or Carbery Rangers in Cork.And as for players taking the competition seriously, there was one county playing against a collegiate side. A player had been named at full-back for the county, but had elected to play for the collegiate side instead. You would imagine that the county manager would be informed of this decision – he didn’t find out until the afternoon of the game.The managers don’t seem to care, the players don’t seem to care. So why should fans? True, there has been a swell in attendance, particularly in Ulster for the McKenna Cup, with regular crowds of 4,000+ watching the various matches. These crowds have been reflected in some parts of Leinster for the O’Byrne Cup.But of course they’ll be the ‘them vs us’ argument when it comes to getting tickets for the big games later in the year. These fans that show up to watch the likes of Armagh vs Down in a dead rubber McKenna game will probably get their hands on some.Consider the timing of these matches, often on a Tuesday or Wednesday night in a freezing cold stadium in the middle of January. Why would you want to go out and watch a match when you could stay at home with a warm cup of soup, or even down the pub? Why risk getting an illness to watch players you’ll forget about in four months? I can barely remember the last major star to come out of January football.Tyrone beat Donegal by twenty points in their group game in Ulster. But were people rejoicing and jumping around like they would do so if they managed to do in the Championship? No. Because no one cares about the pre-season in the GAA. Rory Gallagher wasn’t on the sideline for Donegal, his side were mostly under 21. The match report from Tyrone GAA’s official site consisted of two three line paragraphs and about eight photos.If you went to a pre-season GAA match, fair play to you. You’re brave, but you might just be stupid.And this is just the football competitions. We could be here all day if we included the hurling.