Kilkenny's Paddy Deegan
Every sector of Irish life is uncertain at the moment, including all aspects of it that involve sport and the GAA.
The Covid-19 pandemic has left everyone with a different focus in life. Sport has been well and truly sidelined.
Right across the world sport has been put on hold. In the GAA there is no squad training at club or inter-county level, and there won’t be for who knows how long.
In a normal world at this time of the year where the coronavirus did not exist, the National Leagues, hurling and football, would be winding-up.
Thoughts would be drifting towards the championships. For those involved in the latter stages of the Leagues, and especially the winners, the prospects in the summer games would be bright and things would be promising.
Teams that had been knocked out early in the League would have ramped up their training programme, and some would probably travel abroad to make the most of warm weather training conditions before the championship.
Now, life is very, very different, and with the health of all in mind, rightly so.
Social distancing is a must, the experts insist, and we must be guided by them.
How things will unfold in Gaelic games no one knows, but people in clubs, on County Boards and in Croke Park know there will be a future for games.
The big unknown is when, so all are planning as best they can.
In the meantime, the vacuum is being filled in various different ways by people, including inter-county managers. For example, with All-Ireland champions of 2018, Limerick, their boss John Kiely has said his players will follow individual training programmes that will help keep them fresh and fit.
“The player will get their own individual training plans,” he revealed.
“We have had a couple of days to absorb the consequences of this and we have plans in place on what they can do on their own. One thing about these guys, and you can say it for players all over the country, is they are very, very motivated and enjoy a challenge.”
The Kilkenny players are not sitting idly by. They too are following a schedule of activity outlined by manager Brian Cody and new trainer, Michael Comerford aimed at helping to keep them in shape.
Brian Cody was never one to be lax or to take anything for granted. He knows the demands that lie ahead, and people can’t be starting from point zero when activities resume.
It must be extremely difficult to plan when you have no idea when, or if, a championship might begin. As of now, there has been no plans to cancel or defer the upcoming Leinster and Munster hurling championships which are scheduled to begin at the start of May.
The Health Service Executive has stated that the coronavirus will be on Irish shores beyond this month.
It is highly likely that schedules will be changed. What format will it take, you ask?
Your guess is as good as mine. Who knows, the GAA may proceed and play games behind closed doors.
Unlikely, but a possibility!
To be honest, that option would be monumentally difficult for any player to get used to.
A lot players, whether they like to admit it or not, feed off crowd reactions and enthusiasm and they can harness the buzz to up their game.
Taking out the fans would leave a hollow feeling on inter-county games. Imagine club people being deprived of the chance to support their own players. Not on!
Hence we can regard that option as a long, long shot.
Another possible format that has been discussed is an all or nothing knock-out championship, a one-off ‘2020 Special’.
Liam Griffin, the former Wexford manager, has said that this format is something the GAA will have to strongly consider.
“If that is what it has to be, than so be it,” he suggested. “For me, I always enjoyed the feeling of knowing that this is your first chance, and also your last chance. It was all on the table. All or nothing.
“I just felt that was an exciting approach. You are either good enough each day or you’re not. If it is the latter, than you will be gone.
“This type of championship certainly needs to be considered, be it exclusive to 2020 or beyond that.”
What would such a competition mean for Kilkenny? Remember, the players of today have all grown up on a different diet of games. How would Kilkenny cope? Would they be able to come through and possibly win the championship?
Well, you could argue that panel-wise they are in a strong position. Then again, so too are All-Ireland champions, Tipperary, Limerick, Cork, Wexford and so on.
The spine of the Kilkenny team, bar the midfield, has been tried and tested. The central roles in the defence and attack have, if not filled, good options and there is back up in the event of injuries.
Kilkenny have, let’s be honest, lost a very important component in their make-up through the injury suffered by Adrian Mullen.
Not pushing point
However, we are not pushing the point too much to suggest Kilkenny may have found an instant replacement in Eoin Cody. It is early days in the inter-county senior career of the Shamrocks Ballyhale lad, but he looks a fair prospect, at least.
Such things would suggest that Kilkenny would have enough firepower to help them cope fairly well in a knock-out championship.
Psychologically it might be difficult for players to adjust to an ‘all or nothing’ environment from the off.
The current format in Leinster, where the counties play four championship games on the trot, is obviously taxing, but the safety net of not being gone should you lose a game is a comfort.
For as long as he has been manager, Brian Cody, has always had that ‘back door’ format to fall back on if Kilkenny were tripped up.
He only had to fall back on the second chance option a handful of times, including 2004, 2012, 2013, 2017 and 2019.
It is interesting to note that from those five seasons that Kilkenny fell back on the back door, they only won the All-Ireland once, in 2012.
A knock-out championship is a hard concept to grasp, for Kilkenny players and management, and everyone else too.
If the GAA go with this style of championship, when would it be played? Provided restrictions on public events are lifted in June/July, they could play it around that time or in August.
However, that might create headaches for clubs around the country if they are not able to play some of their matches in April.
You can be sure Kilkenny GAA will work with all the relevant parties to ensure nobody is neglected.
By the time the restrictions on movement are lifted in Ireland, fans and players will be mad for action. The sound of a buzzing UPMC Nowlan Park or wherever will be all the more exhilarating.
In such an environment, the feeling of satisfaction after a championship win will be even more thrilling.
In the meantime stay safe and be safe in the knowledge that the Cats will be ready for whatever challenge awaits.