There are two methods of making you feel extremely good about yourself during Christmas.
The first option is to go for a Christmas Day swim. An increasingly common phenomenon, it involves the ridiculous notion of leaving the selection box and the open fire behind, driving to the sea and, obscenely, getting into said sea. The freezing temperatures inside are quickly offset by the warmth of the likes you will get on your Instagram post about your dip.
The second method is a far more challenging option, and is reserved only for experienced punishment-seekers. It involves attending a pre-season inter-county GAA match. If you have never been to a pre-season inter-county GAA match, there was an informative documentary made on the subject in 2016 named The Revenant which is worth checking out.
The hardcore fans are the ones that suffer the most during this period. They will one day have stories to tell their grandchildren about being wrestled away from the turkey, transported to a mildly familiar provincial ground with 800 other people and forced to watch one county’s under-16s development squad concede 12 goals to the senior side of their bitter neighbours.
Donegal football boss Declan Bonner is one of the unfortunate souls who has to manage a team competing in a pre-season GAA tournament. In a twist that no one anywhere could possibly have seen coming, the group of young adults that play amateur football for Donegal also happen to engage in other young adult things, like getting a third level education. It turns out that the main third level Gaelic football tournament is on around now. A shocking development, and one that no one could possibly have seen coming.
In fairness, you can’t expect Bonner to be satisfied with this situation and, speaking on Highland Radio, he says he won’t be “going to go around club players that haven’t done any work for the last three months to go and fill the numbers for the weekend.”
He is dead right.
However, he also asked this question:
"Whoever fixed the Sigerson in the middle of this campaign, it’s absolutely ridiculous. I don’t know do colleges, or authorities in GAA or the Ulster Council, do they communicate or what?”
I would go one step further, and ask why on earth is there a competition for the Sigerson to clash with? Why in the name of god do we need inter-county fixtures rolling from December into mid-January?
Let me be very clear about one thing: No one cares about pre-season GAA competitions. They serve absolutely no purpose. Apologies to all the McKenna Cup fans out there, but I’ve heard there’s a knockout Ulster tournament that occurs every summer that might also serve to decide the best team in the province.
Yes, there is an appetite for GAA this time of year. So why not make sure all the Sigerson Cup games are played at evening time midweek, under lights and on TV? Would we not all watch that? Throw in the club clashes we have on TG4 most weekends now, and surely that is enough to scratch your GAA-watching itch until Dublin v Kerry at the end of this month?
Declan Bonner summed up why this matters:
“Talking to the medical team in there, a lot of those guys are playing a lot of football. This is crazy stuff that some of these guys could be playing four matches in the space of 10 days. It’s very, very difficult. In terms of player welfare we have got to be very careful.”
This is not just a warning shot. His fellow Donegal man, Luke Keaney, was on OTB AM last month, chatting about what happens when the warnings are ignored. Involved in pre-season tournaments with two different teams at one stage, Keaney’s playing career was cut short at the age of 24 due to hip injuries. He is far from the only one who has had his body battered beyond use.
There are welfare issues that go way beyond pre-season tournaments, for sure. But, why don’t we start fixing the workload by axing tournaments that nobody cares about?
If you got a kick out of attending pre-season games, please realise that we are an island nation. Get yourself to the sea in the middle of winter, and enjoy a far less painful experience.