GAA should avoid a fight with Champions League final

Leinster Council must have the cop on not to go up against Liverpool v Real Madrid

Looking up from the foothills of a World Cup summer, it is traditional in some quarters to worry how the GAA will cope with the incline. Nothing in any sport beats a World Cup and the wiser heads involved with most of them have long since given up trying. Even in countries with no direct involvement, it’s still the biggest thing happening.

In life, goes the old saying, there are days when you’re the pigeon and there are days when you’re the statue. The World Cup doesn’t much care either way – it’s the hurricane that sweeps through, carrying all before it, winged and stone alike. The best you can do is take cover until it’s gone.

In this regard, the GAA has come to a reasonably secure accommodation with itself over the years.

After initially being spooked by the epochal events of the summer of 1990, time has taught them that it wasn’t worth getting wildly nervous about something that happens for four weeks every four years. It’s there, it’s going to be there, suck it up and carry on.

Clashes will happen. Our national heroes’ patchy record of making it to the big show has rendered this is an intermittent problem at worst. The 2002 penalty shoot-out against Spain in South Korea is the closest any game has come since then to overlapping with what ought to be a big GAA match.

Darragh Ó Sé has written in this paper of being in the dressingroom before that day’s Munster championship encounter with Cork and most of the Kerry team huddling around a TV to watch the shoot-out with his uncle Páidí in foul humour that he couldn’t get his players’ head in the game until it was over.

For the most part though, there is damn little crossover. Looking at the schedule this time around, the Munster council needn’t be too hassled at the idea of their fifth round hurling matches – Waterford v Cork and Clare v Limerick – going up against the delights of Costa Rica v Serbia on June 17th.

Later that afternoon, the Connacht football final throws in at the same time as Germany v Mexico. That’s also the day of the final round of the US Open in golf so the floating voter will be going all the way down the ballot. The GAA will insinuate its way in where and when it can.

An Ulster final is an Ulster final, after all. Its acolytes would happily hold it against a moon landing if all came to all

That’s what it has always done. The following weekend, the Ulster football final is up against England v Panama, a clash that will give the warring factions in the seats and stands in Clones that day a bit of common ground at least.

Back in 2010, Monaghan and Fermanagh fans in Breffni Park bonded as brothers when news came dripping through of the hiding England were taking at Germany's hands in Bloemfontein. The sympathy for Frank Lampard having a goal disallowed that day was coruscating.

Moon landing

The long and short of it is that the GAA can do nothing about the World Cup, except keep on plugging on and going about its business.

That its business is happening earlier and heavier this year than ever before ought to generally be a help in that regard. An Ulster final is an Ulster final, after all. Its acolytes would happily hold it against a moon landing if all came to all.

Before then, however, is the Champions League final on May 26th, which makes for an altogether stickier situation.

Already down on the schedule for 7pm that night is a Leinster hurling encounter between Wexford and Offaly in Tullamore and the Ulster football clash of Down and Antrim in Newry. Tipp could also be facing Cork in football if the Premier County win their first game against Waterford.

Potentially added to those are the four Leinster football quarter-finals, including Dublin’s first outing of the summer against either Offaly or Wicklow.

This has happened before, of course. Since the Champions League switched to a Saturday final in 2010, there have always been GAA championship games going up against it. For the most part, so be it. But only a crank wouldn’t concede that it’s a bit different when either Liverpool or Manchester United are involved.

United were in the 2011 final against Barcelona, a night when the Ulster Council famously refused to change the throw-in time of their game between Armagh and Down.

When you compare the biggest game of the year in the biggest sport in the world to an Eastenders omnibus, you don't look like a hero

The Leinster Council changed an Offaly v Wexford game to 5pm but Armagh and Down threw in at 7.30, Champions League final bedamned. Justifying their position, then Ulster president Aogán Ó Fearghail was pretty sniffy about it all.

"Some people tell me when there is an omnibus edition of Eastenders attendances are affected," he said. "The Russian ballet certainly affected attendances of a major sporting event in England that I was aware of. Do attendances get affected by television? Of course they do. But can we react to everything on TV? I don't think so."

Small mentality

Such a small mentality. In fairness to them, the attendance at the Athletic Grounds that night was barely affected – they had over 13,000 through the gates, making it by a good distance the best attended games in the early Ulster rounds that year.

But still, it felt like a needless piece of defiance. When you compare the biggest game of the year in the biggest sport in the world to an Eastenders omnibus, you don't look like a hero. You look like a small man swinging punches at ghosts.

The Leinster Council surely won’t go down that road.

Those four Leinster football games have to be played at some point over that May weekend and for the past two years at least, Sky Sports have had the Dubs’ summer opener at 7pm on that Saturday night.

As of now, neither they nor RTÉ have any plans to show the game – making it the first Dublin championship match not to feature on live TV since 2006. So there's no contractual reason for games to go ahead at 7pm. Any provincial council that does is probably just being wilful.

Scheduling GAA matches so they don’t force your constituents into making choices they don’t want to make isn’t showing weakness. It’s having a bit of cop on.