Gavan Reilly

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Archive for the ‘GAA’ Category

Who needs senior football when you have minor hurling?

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tribune_logoYesterday’s GAA calendar:
2 x GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 4 qualifier games
1 x GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 3 qualifier game

2 x GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Relegation semi-finals
2 x GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Relegation quarter-finals

Yup. Three big football games, dominating the day, with two minor hurling matches and two predictable hurling relegation playoffs buffering coverage for the small stick.


Today’s Sunday Tribune GAA coverage: [across 5 pages]
1/3rd page – Hurling Relegation semi-final coverage (one game)
1 and 1/3rd page – Football previews/analysis
2 pages – Hurling previews/analysis (including two minor quarter-finals)

Total senior football matches: three. Total mentions or references (of any sort!) to them: zero.
Total senior hurling matches: two. Total mentions or references: one.
Total minor hurling matches: two. Total mentions: two.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of the Sunday Tribune and specifically its sports coverage. The Sports Editor PJ Cunningham was, in his day, a tremendous sports columnist for the Indo and the Tribune‘s sports coverage has always been nothing short of top-notch – the Mad About Sport magazine that fell victim to falling circulation will be missed. But when there’s seven big matches on and your paper only gives any coverage (I’m not joking, there isn’t even a pinch of a mention for the other games) to the three least prominent games, you have to wonder whether the mainstream media’s excuse of online erosion is really the reason they’re all going under.

Written by Gav

July 26th, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Leinster’s Epic Day and United’s Epic Season

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leinsterThis week it seemed impossible to escape discussion of ten-year struggles for recognition, an odyssey to overcome non-believers doubting claims of ones substance or genuine contention. Fitting then, that in the week that Ireland finally woke up and acknowledged the pure horror that our children experienced at the hands of the Irish Catholic Church, that Leinster also finally threw off the shackles of being Europe’s Nearly Men and making that final plucky ascent to the top of the pile in continental club rugby.

What a moment, with nothing more needing to be said from a lowly Meathman. The only thing missing, really, was Ryle Nugent, the epitome of south Dublin rugby fanaticism, sent inexplicably to sound out the quality of a third-string Irish team taking on a fifteen of Canadian minnows at a college ground in Vancouver. Myles Harrison and Stuart Barnes are a nice combination but it’s not like having Nugent and Ward totally losing the plot the second Gordon D’Arcy steals an inch.

What’s notable about Leinster’s victory, however, is not that Leinster beat Munster (or anybody else) along the way, but the sheer grit and tenacity to keep things rolling throughout a gruellingly long season. Studying for my finals a few weeks ago I came across one particular nugget regarding management, a universal truth undeniable, unbendable and unavoidable. No matter what avenue of life one competes in, success depends on a strategy characterised by four specific qualities – goals that are consistent, simple and long-term; an objective appraisal of resources; an intimate understanding of the competitive environment; and each of these three being backed up by effective implementation.

Leinster, this year, have finally gotten it together – the simple wonder is that it didn’t happen any earlier. Since Michael Cheika took over at the Leinster helm in the summer of 2005, it’s been a slow but definite rise to the top. Realistically, having earned that most prized display of respect, a standing ovation from the home Toulouse fans after Leinster scored four tries beating them 41-35 in their 2006 quarter-final, one can blame the Leinster branch of the IRFU for not doing a better job of ensuring crowd equality on that infamous day in April 2006 when Munster simply tore Leinster to shreds. The shock of that day set them back years; the trauma alone took three years to overcome.

But back to the point – or, rather, the four main points.

Goals that are simple, consistent and long-term: well, that part’s easy. Having successfully annexed the Magners League on an ongoing basis, there were no worlds left to conquer, but one. And given the length and constant international interruptions of a rugby season, winning the Heineken Cup was a fairly simple target to set.

Objective appraisal of resources: Every dog on the street knows Leinster’s backline has been its foundation since the emergence of the Golden Generation of O’Driscoll, Horgan and D’Arcy. Where Leinster consistently failed was the pack – and the signing of Rocky Elsom, bolstering the new maturity of Bernard Jackman and the experience of returned captain Leo Cullen, was inspired. Elsom was an extraordinarily easy choice for Player of the Season, testament to the role the Wallaby behemoth has played.

Elsewhere, Leinster’s victory has been based on a true acknowledgement of the squad’s shortcomings. Dividing resources between the Magners League and Heineken Cup – alongside Ireland’s constant international struggle for Six Nations success – as they’ve done in previous years has been a destiny of disappointment. This year, Cheika made the call. Ireland were going to be big challengers with Declan Kidney at the helm, and that would destroy any momentum for February and March. The Magners League itself would mean surplus tricky away fixtures in Cardiff and Limerick, never mind nerve-wracking Heineken Cup trips to the Stoop, the Rec, Murrayfield or Twickenham. With the demands of inevitable international success, something would have to give, and the choice to sacrifice the Magners League – the attitude that of course it’s great to win, but losing to the Ospreys isn’t the end of the world – has been the key.

Intimate understanding of the competitive environment: Well, that’s a given these days. Everyone knew the Munster match would be more about emotion than performance. Everyone knew the Harlequins quarter-final would be about grinding out a result, throwing every spare body on a line in order to avoid the critical breach. Everyone knew that the final would need all-round concentration – Leicester’s fifteen-minute superiority around half-time was testament to it. But knowing what’s needed has been the bigger issue for Leinster in previous years, and figuring it out and learning how to win has been the new bit.

Effective implementation: Therein lies the crux. That’s the bit that a coach can only teach so much, and it’s arguable that Michael Cheika doesn’t know how to get the whole thing together. But were Leinster really ever going to win without the Irish national team making the breakthrough first? Success filters down. Once Brian O’Driscoll had been taught how to win on a national level, he was going to bring that down. Leinster’s victory is a planetary alignment, the gravitational slingshot they needed to just break through.

The same formulae can be applied elsewhere. Kilkenny make it their lives’ mission simply never to lose a hurling match. Tipperary or Cork might have to start their seasons muddled about whether they want to win the Munster Championship or the All-Ireland or both, and fall between two stools. Being in an easy provence makes Kilkenny’s job easier: set a target (there’s only one to set anyway) and just get on with it. Acknowledge the potential weaknesses, address them, and play to the team’s strengths. Know the rules and bend them where you can. Play the game and ignore the players.

Which brings me to the second half of the post: why Manchester United are going to win on Wednesday and why Liverpool can’t win the Premiership. The simple act of defining a season’s goal is where Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool keep falling down. Ask a cross-section of Liverpool fans at the start of a year what they’d like to win, given a choice between the Premiership and the Champions League, and they’ll universally answer with the former. Ask the management, and they’re not so sure. End the drought and be Champions of England again, or take the theoretically higher-ranking prize of being Champions of all of Europe? Decisions, decisions.

Liverpool, anyone can tell you, don’t have the universal strength to challenge on both fronts: this is why they often come close to the double, sometimes winning one trophy, but never both. Over-reliance on Torres and Gerrard, and stuttering when they’ve been absent, is symptomatic. It’s often noted that Liverpool’s home form against the likes of Stoke and Hull is what cost them the league: such form is representative of the lack of strength in depth needed to properly rotate and ensure constant progress on all fronts. Liverpool’s problem is the one Leinster have finally mastered: sacrificing the lesser for the greater gain.

Chelsea, in fairness to Liverpool, have a similar problem – they’re just lucky that Frank Lampard never gets injured. Liverpool, therefore, need to pick their target and stick to it. Putting together a squad that can challenge on multiple fronts is something that can’t be done over one summer; that’s the reason why Alex Ferguson habitually buys half a dozen anonymous youngsters every summer. So until Liverpool can reach that level, they need to spread themselves thicker and let go of some things. Liverpool have hit their best league form since they went out of Europe. Hardly a co-incidence.

United, though, have the knack at this stage. This season they’ve shown a true evolution; becoming wiser to the fact that a squad challenging for five trophies across the world cannot afford to win every game scoring four of five goals each time. One-nil victories every week do the job; United haven’t hit a scoring gear this year but that’s fine once you get the victories. Somehow, after 65 games and seven competitions, United have come to the pinnacle of the season with a first-choice eleven totally unscathed and in good form, ready for the prize – backed up by a squad strong even to the point where the fourth-choice XI can defeat a Hull side needing a victory to stay in the Premiership.

And that is why United will win on Wednesday – Barcelona are defensively leaky, particularly for set pieces, and are competitive only by creating a lethal triumvarite of Henry, Messi and Etoo. Take out any of those three – and Henry is looking shaky, especially with Iniesta not in full fitness to fill in for him – and the team quickly becomes toothless. United, strong, refreshed and happy, have little to worry about.

GAA Congress #2

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A pre-Congress phoot shoot this morning; in publicity for Lá na gClub, any delegates with a county jersey were asked to get a photo together this morning. I have some photos but am not likely to get them up before Ray McManus from Sportsfile. I did, however, get a TwitPic that the family will probably treasure for a while. 🙂

Before the discussion on the Experimental Playing Rules that have been trialled in the pre-season tournaments and National Leagues over the winter, there’s the not inconsiderable routine of getting through discussions and proposals presented by a Rules Taskforce who are tasked with the revision and modernisation of the GAA’s fundamental rules.

Rule 21 – the fabled rule that once banned members of the Ulster policing forces from membership – has just been deleted in its entirety; its contents have been somewhat replicated in other rules introduced and so it is no more. Interesting to think that once upon a time that rule caused such incredible consternation at a Congress that Seán McCague’s Presidency will forever be remembered for the amendment of the fabled Rule.

Elsewhere, Congress has formally agreed to launch a system of electronic membership, probably the biggest non-Governmental registration ever to take place in Ireland, with the GAA’s 800,000-odd membership now being electronically catalogued. Analagous to this, the final date for payment of membership fees has been brought forward from August 1st annually to March 31st. As a by-product, members joining a new club after March 31st won’t be allowed to run for a committee position until the following year.

Ned Quinn, Secretary in Kilkenny, wasn’t best pleased. He and the Úachtarán have a brief squabble about whether this is a healthy thing or not. “In fairness, Ned,” says the Úachtarán, “People will always have their fees paid early anyway.”

“No offence, Úachtarán,” comes the reply, “but people pay before August because they need to if they want their All-Ireland tickets.”

Congress bursts into a jovial spontaneous applause. Amid all the theoretical talk of rules and taskforces and directions and strategic analyses, there’s still a sense of real humour. Bravo.

Written by Gav

April 18th, 2009 at 9:51 am

Posted in Congress

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GAA Congress #1

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So here I am, brushing the cobwebs off the blog, from Cork where I’m at the GAA’s Annual Congress in Cork. I should state from the start that I’m not a delegate here; I’m an executive tagger-onner – Ciara’s dad is finishing up as President after three years at the helm, and we’re here supporting him as it all finishes up. It’s been quite the three years but that’s for another blog.

A few first impressions:

While it’s not like an Árd Fheis where you’re smothered from the outset with flyers asking you to vote, this is as close as the GAA gets to a trade show. Thus, everyone from O’Neills and Azzurri to Sportsfile and Baker IT is downstairs shifting wares; even artificial turf installers and floodlight suppliers are here, hoping that passing delegates might be from clubs interested in having work one.

While it’s not typically perceived as so, it’s a real mixture of young and old here – not that the stereotypical delegate would be defied by the existence of a “Ladies’ Tour” for the wives of delegates to mosey around Cork on the Saturday while the Congress itself continues apace in Rochestown, near Douglas. There are some very young – I literally mean teenage – delegates around, assumably people who proposed motions from clubs who have gotten motions onto the Clár. It’s good to see.

The design of the GAA’s standard wares has become very slick and professional. Congress two years ago in Kilkenny – and, from what I’ve seen, everything up to that – was a raggletaggle design mixed bag; Kilkenny’s was the predictable amber-and-black combo everywhere possible. Since the GAA rebranded, simultaneously with Congress at Sligo last year, it’s been a much more unified and dignified affair; this year the booklets of working group and committee reports, and the Congress Clár itself, are works of staggering professionalism with some truly incredible photography included therein.

This evening, as is customary, Congress dealt with financial matters and the Ard-Stiurthoir’s report. Financial things, despite The Climate, look okay – the notable sums being that Championship gate receipts in 2008 were slightly down on an all-time peak of 2007, and the Foreign Games took in €15m. Now, admittedly, this money has been ringfenced for capital projects and isn’t being treated as the staple income, and without it the Association would still turn profit. Nonetheless, it’ll be quite a hole to plug given it will have been customary for quite a bit by the time it disappears in 2010’s accounts.

Paraic Duffy’s report was a thorough affair; the usual ream of well-thought-out suggestions that the Árd-Stiúrthóir’s report brings before they’re promptly forgotten, as fate has proven in the past. Fingers crossed for otherwise.

Tomorrow’s business kicks off at 10am with reports and motions from the Rules Taskforce, followed by debate on the experimental rules which provide the main talking point. The outgoing President’s address is scheduled for 12.30pm but is likely to have to be shifted in accordance with business; the official handover to Christy Cooney is set for 5pm but likewise may be subject to the whims of the floor.

With any luck I’ll be tweeting (using the tag #gaa2009) and blogging from the floor – there’s also live feeds on for those interested.

Until tomorrow…

Written by Gav

April 17th, 2009 at 10:30 pm