An intercounty season five long months in the making

The Covid-19 enforced shutdown finally ends as the hurling league breathes life into 2021

The 2021 intercounty season finally gets underway this weekend. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

The 2021 intercounty season finally gets underway this weekend. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

 

Finally. Though we can’t say definitively that Gaelic games are the world’s last sports to get up and running in 2021, we’re happy enough to take a punt just this once and declare it so until someone tells us different. The lockdown in Mongolia has been pretty severe, for example, so it’s entirely possible that they’re running a bit behind with their beloved yak polo. Certainly, results have been thin on the ground on the Ulaanbaatar news sites.

So okay, maybe your yak polo, fine. But in the vast majority of cases, nobody has had to wait longer than the GAA. All across the planet, the sports that sustain its peoples have found a way to nose themselves out of hibernation. Big sports, small sports, Olympic sports, silly sports. Indoor and outdoor, contact and non-contact. They have all faced into the Covid breeze and decided not to be blown back any longer.

Not here, though. Not on our little bump of rock. The post-Christmas disaster that played out in Covid wards across the land meant a knock-on spring bereft of the simple pleasures of games. The pro sports kept trucking on. The Gah had to take a number.

Five months it’s been. Five very long months. One week borrowing the next, each day rolling into the following one until it’s all just the same big blob of playdough. This GAA shutdown has lasted exactly as long as the 2020 one – 140 days – but somehow this has felt longer. Crappier weather. Crankier people. Patience long since gone.

Without picking at old scabs, the wisdom of removing elite status from intercounty players looks even flimsier now than it did in February. Listen over the coming weeks as the drumbeat of the hurling and football seasons start to grow, as there is finally Something To Talk About. It’s hard to find time to give out about Nphet when there are games on the go.

Defending All-Ireland champions Limerick will be the team to beat this summer. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Defending All-Ireland champions Limerick will be the team to beat this summer. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Five months. Five months with no square balls and no fair shoulders. Neither a sideline cut nor a blanket defence to be seen. Nobody has taken a quick free or a dummy solo or played a handpass off the stick. There hasn’t been a referee abused nor an opponent sledged nor a Dub financially doped. All available cows in Clare have been milked.

Well, it’s hopefully over now. It begins this afternoon with Westmeath playing Galway in Mullingar, the 2021 hurling season finally a going concern. The big one is tonight, with Limerick facing Tipperary live on RTÉ television. And on and on throughout the weekend, with the football back next Saturday.

Okay, so ‘big one’ is Don Kinging the thing just a little. There can be no big ones in this league. It’s impossible. Even more than usual, the outcome of the league is going to go in one ear and out the other. This is going to be the Walsh Cup with a little sugar on top, a kind of souped-up pre-season blitz. Championship is 49 days away.

We should, then, probably go easy on all the pre-match prognosticating and post-match extrapolating, just for now. Maybe give it a week or three before getting dogmatic about anything. Certainly, anybody betting on a hurling match this weekend could probably do with having a quiet internal word. That said, Antrim are 10-1 to beat Clare . . .

And so it begins. An intercounty season that will barely stop to draw breath between now and late August. Limerick and the Dubs sitting supreme, coconuts for the rest of the country to aim at with their best shy. It will mostly be dull and only occasionally be worth watching and, truth be told, we’ll probably give out about it for most of the summer.

Let it never go away again.

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