This weekend sees the start of the Kilkenny football leagues. The first competitive adult games of the 2014 season will generate no headlines, writes Nickey Brennan.
For many these fixtures are a nuisance. They are seen as a distraction to players who need to start focusing on hurling affairs, which are likely to start earlier than last year because National Hurling League quarter-finals have to be slotted into the programme.
For others the games are a perfect way to get players back out on the playing fields and moving again after the Winter and months of inactivity. However, with players emerging at various stages of fitness, there is a big danger of injuries.
Many players realise the importance of keeping in shape over the Winter and will not have too many problems coping with the outdoor activity. For the remainder, the next couple of weeks could be challenging.
Every team taking to the pitch next weekend will hope to be successful, but not too many tears will be shed if results do not go according to plan.
That is a pity because there is ample evidence that a successful football run can instil extra confidence in players and lead to bigger rewards later in the season.
Clara, the Rower-Inistioge and St Patrick’s (Ballyragget) are three clubs that spring to mind who won football championships in Kilkenny in recent years. The trio have also won the Kilkenny senior, intermediate and junior hurling championships!
It is unfortunate that the football leagues have to commence so early, but a congested fixtures programme during the Spring makes this necessary.
Kilkenny escaped much of the recent inclement weather so pitches are in decent enough shape. It would help, though, if pitches could be spared for a few more weeks which would help avoid an extra maintenance burden and consequent cost on clubs.
The new black card rules and a host of other regulations have already landed on the inter-county scene. The feedback has been mixed.
The real test at inter-county level will come during the National Football League when I expect the new regulations to generate plenty of headlines.
In the past such regulations were trialled during pre-season and/or league competitions before being either dumped or radically changed. That will not happen on this occasion as the new regulations are now officially in rule.
Irrespective of the feedback which may emerge from managers and players, the new regulations, of which the black card is the most high profile, are here to stay.
All inter-county managers and players received briefings on the new rules in late 2013. So too did inter-county referees.
As with many GAA rules consistent interpretation remains the biggest challenge for match officials.
Kilkenny referees have also been briefed on the new rules, but maybe the same cannot be said of the players. There is an excellent video on the GAA website www.gaa.ie and it would be time well spent for any player to have a look at it.
It might be useful, though, if all referees spoke to both teams before the start of this weekend’s games and briefly outline how they intend handling the new rules. Having everyone on the same page is no bad thing.
Why shouldn’t Kilkenny take a bold step in this regard? Gaelic games, or in this case football, are run under the same rules as those elsewhere. The rules to be applied by referees are the same.
So why not go for it?
Kilkenny will again participate in the British junior football tournament this season. The county’s involvement in the competition last year was a success, but it will be some months before a squad is assembled to participate.
The hope is that with the football season starting this weekend enough players will make themselves available to help Kilkenny’s football cause during the Summer.