Cork happy to trade ‘promotional window’ for box-office appeal of split season

‘We’ve got through a massive amount of games, had great weather and increased attendances’ - county chair Marc Sheehan

If the rate of progress of the county championships has given rise to some finger pointing as to what exactly counties are doing with all of that extra time, created by the split season, those in charge of the GAA’s most demanding county schedules in Cork are more than happy with the first year of the experiment.

“We needed it all,” says county chair, Marc Sheehan, “and we started at the earliest available opportunity. I suppose we were out of the intercounty championships earlier and we were able to start on July 4th.

“Despite some complications, we’ve still managed to close out the premier hurling championship on October 16th with the football on the 30th fairly comfortably and will finish the main competitions this month.

“We’ve got through a massive amount of games, had great weather and increased attendances. There’s huge interest in the pairing of Blackrock and St Finbarr’s in the hurling final.”


Both of the county finals are all-city affairs. Finbarr’s are in both, defending their football title against Nemo Rangers and hoping for a first hurling success since 1993 against the champions of two years ago.

On the dual issue, Sheehan says that whereas, “there aren’t a whole lot of players on both teams, the Cahalanes complicate the picture because although they aren’t dual players with St Finbarr’s they played football for Castlehaven [club of their father, Niall].”

Are the finals evidence of a city surge in the county?

“I suppose the facts of the premier senior championships speak for themselves with four city teams in the two finals but clubs from outside the urban area are well represented at other grades and on the north of the city you have Na Piarsaigh getting relegated so it goes in cycles.”

Overall, though, Sheehan is more than pleased with the running of the county’s fixtures and he contrasts it with the fractured and unpredictable fixtures calendars that Cork had to juggle previously.

“Before we had been starting in April with one round and then a big gap. It took off again when the intercounty season was over and the Cork teams went out. In 2010 and 2013 [when Cork were in All-Irelands] you were back into the county championship at the end of September and it was a rush to complete it in time for Munster championship.”

How was that managed?

“With great difficulty. There were several situations where clubs were advanced in both codes and it delayed divisional and junior championships, created situations of midweek games week after week. It was very unsatisfactory.

“Officially, the championship began in April and finished in November. Clubs were putting in a great deal of effort in the leagues from February to try and get ready for the championship in April. Then there was chaos for the summer with nothing happening apart from finishing off a few league games and practice matches.

“The keynote was uncertainty. Someone goes off and books holidays only for a match to be scheduled when they’re away.”

He says that the reaction from players is positive and that with the better defined club calendar, he’s not inclined to be swayed by arguments that the GAA is losing out promotionally to other sports.

“Club players that I’m interacting with are happy they’re getting a defined season. At the end of the day I’m not so sure about the loss of [promotional] windows and that stuff.”

There is also a welcome financial boost in the improved attendances at county championship matches.

“Numbers are up and that’s in the context of our streaming arrangement with the Irish Examiner which is also going well. We are confident that we’ll exceed last year’s figure even if we can’t quantify it until the end of October but we are ahead of last year in real terms of cash sales. It’s encouraging – and essential.

“Obviously accounts closed off last Friday [the GAA’s accounting year runs from September to September] but the most lucrative matches this year are yet to come.”

There will also be a special commemoration on the weekend of the hurling final to mark the centenary of Cork’s Con Murphy, who won four All-Ireland medals and went on to referee two All-Ireland finals before embarking on a lengthy career as an administrator.

He was county secretary from 1956 to ‘72 and went on to become president of the GAA in 1976.

“We’re dedicating it to his memory, as he was born 100 years ago this month. This is in conjunction with Croke Park so it’s all systems go.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times