Idea of April as a clubs-only month has been strangled at birth

Anthony Daly and James Horan know issue from both sides and say idea doesn’t work

Anthony Daly, who is now managing Kilmacud Crokes: “I think at the end of this year, everyone needs to sit down and work out what went right and what didn’t.” Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Anthony Daly, who is now managing Kilmacud Crokes: “I think at the end of this year, everyone needs to sit down and work out what went right and what didn’t.” Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

So how is April going for you?

You, the county player easing back into civilian life with a month to shake off the niggles before the music strikes back up and the big lights go back on. Or you, the club manager putting names to faces again for the first time since that big team meeting you chaired in January where you laid out your plans for the month three months ahead of time.

Or you, the CCCC man whose heart is broken listening to people giving out. How we all doing? Everybody good?

Not so much, it turns out. Two weeks in, already the idea of giving April back to the clubs has been exposed as a fallacy. A well-intentioned fallacy whose heart was in the right place but a fallacy nonetheless. Leaving aside Eamon Donoghue’s story in these pages last week that showed 25 of 44 county championships in football and hurling having no games played this month, the games that are going ahead come laden with their own issues.

There is no Narnia. Not for anyone. The counties that have got stuck in and made an early start on their fixtures have had to do so with county players in various states of repair after a hectic league campaign. In theory, April as a club month had plenty going for it. In practice, the rubber meets the road in some particularly awkward spots.

Anthony Daly is familiar with both poaching and gamekeeping hats in this respect. He was a county manager with Clare and Dublin for a decade and is currently in his second year over Kilmacud Crokes. Four of his charges are in the Dublin panel, all of whom saw action in the league quarter-final against Tipperary on March 25th. Crokes’ first championship game was down for Thursday, April 5th, which meant that they were still technically countymen until just five days before throw-in against Naomh Fionnbarra.

And so it began. Push me, pull you. Everyone staking out their own ground, trying to see the other side where possible and/or practicable. Daly knows the territory better than most and would have heightened fellow feeling for Pat Gilroy, especially in the current climate where Gilroy ís trying to shape a panel and only just got his Cuala players back in the past fortnight. But Daly has his own patch to mind as well and can’t apologise for doing so.

"Like, I had championship the following week and you live or die by championship. And he was saying, ‘Yeah – I have Kilkenny in a few weeks!"

“We had a few words alright with the county management,” he says. “Because they trained twice on the Tuesday after the Tipperary match and they were feeling flahed. I had agreed with Pat that they would train again on Thursday night but then when they got so flahed on Tuesday, I was kind of saying with a couple of other club managers that no, they’re not going to train on Thursday. And that was up to maybe 15 players who were going to opt out I’d say.

“So we had a phonecall about it and I was saying to him: ‘When I said you could have them on Thursday, you didn’t tell me what you’d do with them on the Tuesday’. Like, I had championship the following week and you live or die by championship. And he was saying, ‘Yeah – I have Kilkenny in a few weeks, I understand all of that’.

Light session

“And look, I’ve been that soldier. We had no row or anything. We agreed that they’d have a relatively light session on the Thursday night and we got them back for Saturday. So we had them for the game then the following Thursday and they’ve gone back in with Dublin this week.

“This is unprecedented ground. In fairness to Pat, I totally get his concerns. Kilkenny are coming to Parnell Park on May 12th and he only has his full panel back this past fortnight since the Cuala lads came back in. I know both sides of it.”

At least he got his players back, short notice or no short notice. Others haven’t been as blessed. Designating April as the month for clubs is all very well but there’s nothing anyone can do about the fact that January, February and March exist as well. And they’ve had their pound of flesh already.

In this regard, thoughts and prayers must surely go to Mick Evans, manager of the Douglas football team in Cork. On the face of it, Douglas have the makings of a pretty handy side. Evans has six countymen in his ranks – the Cadogan brothers and Shane Kingston from the hurlers and Sean Powter, Sean Wilson and Kevin Flahive from the hurlers.

Considering all three hurlers have played football for Cork at various levels aside from their hurling gaiscí, that’s some serious firepower to be tooling up with in the championship.

Or it would be, if Evans could get them all on the pitch. Sadly for him, Douglas had their championship opener last weekend against Bishopstown, by the end of which only one of the sextet was involved. Powter, who made the shortlist for Young Footballer of the Year in 2017, ruptured his hamstring in Cork’s first league game back in January and won’t see action for another fortnight yet.

Kingston and both Cadogans played in five of Cork’s six league hurling matches through the early months of the year and all landed back hurt. Alan Cadogan (hip) and Kingston (ankle) didn’t tog out last weekend, Eoin Cadogan got out of his sick bed to play and was gone with a pulled hamstring after 20 minutes. Wilson played but did his ankle midway through the second half. In the end, down five of their best players, Douglas were beaten by 0-11 to 0-9.

Douglas are a dual club and their hurlers have their championship opener a fortnight from yesterday. Evans had his county players – or what was left of them – for six days before the biggest game of his year so far and as soon as the final whistle went, he had to say goodbye to them again to send them off hurling. The confluence of events brought about an impossible situation, one he flagged up in the run-up to the Bishopstown game.

“April is designated as a club-only month,” Evans said, speaking to The Examiner last week. “You’d want to be delusional to think that means the county players go back to their clubs for all of April. There is a need for serious discussion regarding the club set-up . . . If we’re going to designate April for the clubs, what exactly does that mean? Different people have different understandings of what it entails.”

Wishful dream

Like Anthony Daly, James Horan is a club manager now and an ex-county manager always. This is his first season in charge of Westport and he oversaw a winning start to the Mayo championship last weekend with a 2-12 to 0-8 win over Crossmolina. And that, more or less, is that – most likely until after the schools go back in September. With Galway on the horizon in four weeks, Mayo are in Carton House this weekend. There’ll be county players for league games here and there before then but their duty is basically all ended now until such time as it begins again.

James Horan: “We played on April 7th . . . The Mayo club championship won’t be until September. You’re talking May, June, July, August – four months between rounds of championship, which is nuts really.” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
James Horan: “We played on April 7th . . . The Mayo club championship won’t be until September. You’re talking May, June, July, August – four months between rounds of championship, which is nuts really.” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Horan is relaxed enough about it all. A bit bemused by having a competition started and then paused for a third of a year but not about to lose any sleep. He doesn’t rightly know when Westport’s next league fixture is going to be but that’s no particular skin off his nose either. The April thing as a panacea, however, he just doesn’t see.

Horan has a young team in Westport and only Lee Keegan attached to the county panel so he’s not that badly off for bodies. If anything is likely to exercise him, it’s the fact that he has nine on the U-20 panel and they’ll disappear from the club for most of May and June. But again, reality is as reality does.

They’re talking about a three-year trial period but I’m not sure we should be waiting that long

“We have played a championship match, which is great. We played it on April 7th. If you take Mayo and their form over the past five years, you would hope they’d be in the Super-8s. So the Mayo club championship won’t be until September. So you’re talking May, June, July, August – four months between rounds of championship, which is nuts really.

“So did April work? Did it mean anything? I don’t think it did. It was a wishful dream really. It was a nice narrative to throw out there and maybe it appeased a little bit. Maybe it gave the idea of, ‘Well if we get a couple of matches played in April, sure we’ll be all happy’. But when you don’t have legislation or policy around it, it’s not going to make a big difference or be sustainable.”

Key line

That’s a key line from all in the chorus. The April idea came down from on high as a guideline and since it could never be anything more than that, counties aren’t overly worried about adhering to it. In meetings with the hierarchy ahead of last year’s Congress vote, the CPA asked that it be made mandatory but Croke Park said they couldn’t do that.

Hence, there is no particular jeopardy in it for counties and in effect, they can treat April however they see fit. So even if this was the silver-bullet solution, there’d be no way of knowing because everyone is still doing their own thing regardless.

“I think at the end of this year, everyone needs to sit down and work out what went right and what didn’t,” says Daly. “They’re talking about a three-year trial period but I’m not sure we should be waiting that long. Like, we know what one year has looked like now or we’re getting to know. Why would next year be any different?

“I honestly don’t think the three-year thing should be adhered to. We need to work it out again. All these great notions about getting everything played in the one year and the players going back to their clubs for April – I’d applaud the thinking but realistically, that’s all very difficult.”

Nobody can say for sure what the solution is. But already it feels like the idea of a clubs-only April has been strangled at birth. Though it may not have been the perfect fix, it would be difficult to argue that it ever really stood a chance.  

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