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Dublin: 15 °C Thursday 22 August, 2019
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Talking points: what we learned from the weekend's club GAA action

“We’ve just had the sort of unexpected and unlikely weekend that reminds you that intercounty isn’t everything,” writes Ewan MacKenna.

Kyle Carragher and Tony Kernan of Crossmaglen celebrate.
Kyle Carragher and Tony Kernan of Crossmaglen celebrate.
Image: ©INPHO/Presseye/Andrew Paton

1. The Bigger Picture

THERE WAS SO much good to talk about as we’ve just had the sort of unexpected and unlikely weekend that reminds you that intercounty isn’t everything. However, some things are more important than sport but as they are society wide, they are creeping into sport. So the positive can wait, the stark reality has to come first.

I wasn’t surprised that Aaron Cunningham alleged he spent some of Sunday’s Ulster club final getting racially abused by opposition players. Just as I wasn’t surprised when Lee Chin was allegedly taunted by an opposing player in a club game in Wexford a few months back. Why would I be surprised? Gaelic games aren’t immune from what is going on around them in the rest of the world. Instead they are a part of that world.

The Ulster Council has said it will investigate what happened at its provincial final and word has it, there might be bans for any Kilcoo player found guilty. In Wexford, those who abused Chin only got short suspensions but too much of this argument is already focusing on the length of punishment and I’m not comfortable with that. It’s the default stance of being seen to fix the problem when it is only masking it.

It’s solving the symptom but not the actual disease, allowing those responsible to go off and be racist in other areas of their lives where Aaron Cunningham and Lee Chin also inhabit. Meanwhile back inside GAA grounds, we will wait for the next uninformed person to come along, not seeing someone else’s ban as enough of a deterrent, and the whole cycle starts again.

2. And the best is yet to come

At times intercounty seems almost everything in this game. It makes the money, entertains the masses and is sexy. As for the club championship, so often it can seem a space filler awkwardly bundled into the boot because there’s no room in the back seat and this way the GAA at least gets its two pages in the papers each Monday morning through the winter.

Then you watch Dr Crokes and Crossmaglen. Their opponents on Sunday were gallant but came up against two of the better club sides there’ve ever been. This isn’t just about titles, it’s about the football they play. From Mike Moloney at full-back for the Kerry side to Oisin McConville in the corner for the Armagh side, from Paul Hughes at corner-back for the Ulster champions to Colm Cooper at full-forward for the Munster champions, we have two sides filled with not just athletes, but skilled players that make you want to watch.

Down south, it was clear it was going to be a blowout from early on, but still you wanted the half-time break to finish up so you could get back to watching Crokes’ blend of quick movement of player and ball, of overlapping runners and clever lay-offs. Up north was no different and with St Brigid’s of Roscommon already into the last four and Portlaoise or Ballymun set to join them, this is a club championship that isn’t just a space filler until the intercounty season returns. Instead, many are now looking to the new year and thinking about the All Ireland semi-finals, every bit as much as the return of the national league.

3. Hurling – all about the underdog

We never thought we’d say this, but in a week where proposals for yet more changes to the intercounty structure were all about protectionism of the elite, we find some good news regarding the little guys in the small-ball game.

First up, Oulart-the-Ballagh. For a county that has seen hurling demoted to a secondary role over recent years, their champions have shown enough heart and courage and skill to put the sport back in the big time.

Second up, Conor Phelan. Nine years ago as a 20-year-old with a big future, he came on in an All Ireland final for Kilkenny and set up the winning goal. Seven years ago he was diagnosed with a leaking valve in his heart and was told it couldn’t take the stresses of the game’s top level. On Sunday, while few noticed, he was at wing-forward for Clara as they won the Leinster intermediate title.

Miracles do happen. Even in hurling.

As it happened: Castlehaven v Dr Crokes, Munster Club SFC Final

GAA investigating racism claims at Ulster SFC final

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