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Lockdown lessons: We've had our fill of GAA nostalgia and the Dubs don't look so invincible going into a delayed, surreal 2020 season

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OPENING UP: Tadhg Donavan, Chairman of Buttevant GAA Club, opens the gates to walkers at Buttevant GAA club in Cork, after walkways in GAA clubs opened to members of the public for exercising yesterday. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

OPENING UP: Tadhg Donavan, Chairman of Buttevant GAA Club, opens the gates to walkers at Buttevant GAA club in Cork, after walkways in GAA clubs opened to members of the public for exercising yesterday. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

OPENING UP: Tadhg Donavan, Chairman of Buttevant GAA Club, opens the gates to walkers at Buttevant GAA club in Cork, after walkways in GAA clubs opened to members of the public for exercising yesterday. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

These are, you've been told an unprecedented number of times already, "unprecedented times".

The GAA used to be a great place for precedent. Trump may have his Bible but Croke Park can boast the ultimate prop, the Official Guide.

This oracle of all wisdom decreed that the referee's word was final (except when uttered in outrageous calumny against your own county); that Johnny Foreigner could keep his yellow cards, sin bins and penalty shootouts (until we decided they weren't such a bad idea after all); and that every All-Ireland senior football championship would culminate in a studiously crafted speech from Stephen Cluxton, thanking the organisers of the competition.

But that's all gone out the window now. We are the New Normal people.

So, as we prepare to exit GAA lockdown, what have we learned?

NOSTALGIA HAS A SHELF LIFE

After the initial shock of March 12, it took approximately 24 hours for GAA scribes and programme producers to change the habit of a lifetime and get creative.

Almost overnight, GAA Nostalgia Inc morphed from humble cottage industry into the next Google. It was everywhere: clogging up the schedules of TG4, eir Sport, any station you could find - apart from, oddly enough, RTÉ, which can no longer show most of its own footage.

Meanwhile, the embattled print media was buried in an avalanche of doomsday stories - 99pc Covid-related - but not a jot of sports news to report bar the occasional - also Covid-related - doomsday newsflash about the latest cancellation.

So, to fill the vacuum of match reports, we had flashbacks to matches in the good old days when there was no social distancing impediment to decking your marquee opponent. Researching these stories reaffirmed that former players do not have a pathological fear of dictaphones. Maybe that's just a millennial thing …

However, 89 days later, we've all had our fill of nostalgia. Even if it happens in an empty stadium, we all crave to watch/report on/self-combust over a match whose outcome has yet to be decided.

DUBLIN v ALL THE REST?

Pre-lockdown, the result of most Dublin matches was every bit as predictable as all those sepia-tinted flashbacks. But has anything changed?

Good question. Speaking on RTÉ Radio, Kevin McStay surmised that the proposed new calendar - club first, with county squad training officially off-limits until September 14 - could level the playing field.

"On 17 October, you wouldn't say Dublin are definitely going to win the championship. I think it will be a very level championship and there are five, six, maybe seven teams that over a short championship could hit form," McStay suggested.

You can see his point. Countering that, assuming this year's race for Sam comprises the existing provincial draws with a 'back door' but no Super 8s, the only thing levelled in Leinster will be the opposition.

However, in what is Dessie Farrell's maiden campaign, given the stop-start backdrop, and with straight knockout from the quarter-finals, nothing is guaranteed.

OBEYING RULES, GAA STYLE

The GAA is a reflection of Ireland at large: partisan stakeholders tend to view hard-and-fast rules either as vague discussion documents or essential for everyone else, just not us. So it's kind-of-okay to drive 20km above the speed limit, or order one last pint half-an-hour after closing time - or to flout that winter training ban because everyone else is.

For the most part, however, Team Ireland donned the jersey and obeyed the lockdown. What now as we exit it?

Even before we entered Phase 2 yesterday, there had been unproven whispers of some county teams engaging in training 'pod' sessions. It's impossible to conceive that managers so accustomed to unfettered access will happily step away until mid-September.

Even in the absence of insurance cover, or expenses, the suspicion is that county panels will be tempted to press the button early … albeit there is a powerful counter-argument that, from late July, players will be immersed in their own club championships.

Club v county: plus ca change. This age-old fault line will be monitored more closely than ever this season.

CENTURY-OLD STRUCTURES

Statues that stood for centuries have come tumbling down in recent days. The old order, you might wishfully believe, is falling apart. It calls to mind the GAA's fascination with another previously immovable monument - the provincial championship monolith.

In normal times, the Fixtures Calendar Review Taskforce would be touring the country right now, explaining its various proposals for a revamped inter-county football structure, ahead of a Special Congress in September.

Covid-19 had other ideas.

But as John Horan noted over the weekend: "The proposals are there. One of the big challenges is to tackle the monster that is the traditional feature of the GAA, that is the provincial championships. Ulster and Munster, you'd find it very hard to move in terms of the Munster hurling championship and the Ulster football championship."

When the GAA president describes the current structure as a "monster" in terms of fixture reform, you get an idea of the challenge.

Will the past three months of idle introspection have altered previously entrenched positions? Will a (late) summer for once dominated by club football and hurling prompt a long-overdue review of what works best for everyone in the GAA?

We'll know better at the end of this surreal 2020 season - in 2021!