It is sometimes forgotten that clubs have been immeasurably more impacted by the pandemic than counties. Although the club season in 2020 was the first off the blocks and played out in excellent summer weather with players up and down the county delighted to have exclusive time with their club-mates, there followed no activities until this summer.
It was noticeable on TG4 on Sunday that intercounty players in the Mayo championship meeting of Breaffy and The Neale referred to not having played for their clubs in a year. There have been two All-Ireland championships played between the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
This year marks a return to some sort of normality in that provincial and All-Ireland championships will be played albeit provincial finals won’t be completed until the new year.
The two outlier counties a year ago, Wexford and Waterford, have persevered with the split club season from 12 months ago, which saw the hurling championship played first, followed by the football.
In Wexford it was initially depicted as being a contrivance to allow former county hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald get quick access to his panellists but on closer examination turned out to be extremely popular with the players in what is arguably the most active dual county in the country – last year's county champions Shelmaliers had 13 players on both teams.
Anyway this year's winners, Rapparees were crowned the weekend before last and Waterford's county final between Ballygunner, in pursuit of a ninth successive title, and Roanmore takes place on Sunday.
There have been other finals – including Carlow – but by and large counties are hardly out of the preliminary stages of their championships and provincial competition isn’t scheduled to begin until late November. Leinster Council hasn’t even made its draws yet and these will take place next Monday.
There are reasons for the slow progress of county championships, including the hangover of 2020 competitions. For instance although just nine senior finals had to be completed this year after the GAA pulled the plug on club activity exactly a year ago next Tuesday, there were roughly twice that number of intermediate finals, which obviously had a bearing on this season’s senior championship.
All told it’s a long way from the pre-pandemic plans to complete the club All-Irelands within the calendar year, which had emerged in 2018 but these past two seasons have not been normal.
This year the intercounty championship ate into the club programme by six weeks more than would be the case normally, now that the split season has been accepted for the future and will entail All-Ireland finals concluding by the end of July.
All going well and without any hangover from the current season it should be possible to bring forward the club All-Irelands to January as in 2020, just weeks before the Covid nightmare materialised. In fact had that not been the case, the All-Ireland club championships would also have had to be re-fixed – as well as the 2021 equivalent being abandoned.
Next year’s should be played out by February.