Five Reasons Why The GAA National League Hasn’t Lost Its Appeal

 
 

With the GAA’s National League coming to an end, Conall Cahill gets down on his knees and worships at its altar.

“Ah, sure ‘tis only the League”.
“Ya, a good win, but have they peaked too early?”

Consolation and caution – two major sentiments at this stage of the GAA year. The National Leagues in both football and hurling are nearing their conclusions, and fans of all counties, whether it has been a disastrous spring or a plentiful one, are perhaps still wary of rushing to judgment.

Yes, Mayo were walloped by Dublin – but surely with the O’Sheas to come back and the proper focus they’ll put it up to them in August or September? And sure, Wexford are flying under Davy Fitz, but will all that really matter if things go to pot in the summer?

Ah, to hell with the doubts, we say. The League is great, whatever its overall importance – and here are a few reasons why:

The Talented Youngfellas

Under less pressure for results than in the Championship, but yet playing at a higher intensity than in pre-season tournaments like the O’Byrne Cup, the League gives managers a chance to really see what the talented youngsters in their squads are made of. The end result has been that we have seen the likes of Ciaran Thompson and UCD’s own Jack Barry starring for Donegal and Kerry respectively in football, while hurlers Conor Gleeson of Waterford and Cork’s Shane Kingston (back after serious injury) have imprinted themselves onto the national consciousness with stellar performances.

Watching the League is so exciting because of the different and novel match-ups that we might not otherwise get the chance to see until late in summer

The Atmospheres

Yes, so only 722 fans turned up to see Tipperary v Antrim in Thurles. But there were 16,231 at Cavan v Dublin on the same weekend and over 8,500 turned up on a wet Saturday (on the same evening as Ireland v England) to watch Donegal v Tyrone a few weeks later 8,793 watched Waterford beat Kilkenny by a point at Nowlan Park and over 5000 watched Cork dispatch Clare. Within relatively medium-sized stadiums, either side of the pitch being fairly well packed out, this allows players (in the top leagues, at least) and supporters alike to enjoy a fine atmosphere – one to whet the appetite for Championship.

The Cracking Games

Watching the League is so exciting because of the sheer variety of games on display, the different and novel match-ups that we might not otherwise get the chance to see until late in summer – and with the added edge of being a ‘home game’ for one of the teams rather than in the neutral venue of Croke Park. Anyone who saw the aforementioned clash between the Déise and the Cats, Dublin v Kerry in Tralee or (in the Observer’s totally unbiased view) Antrim’s fine win over Laois in Belfast will testify to this. Now, if only we had some way in which we could incorporate this brilliant ‘home and away’ format into the Championship…

Eir Sport’s Groundbreaking Coverage

We live in heady times as far as coverage of GAA is concerned. Online streaming services allow us to watch club football at all levels, and videographers like Jerome Quinn capture moments from ladies’, colleges and schools GAA that would previously have been undocumented.

While TG4 and RTÉ still cover the League with fine live/deferred games and highlights shows respectively, eir Sport have consistently shown two games (on both of its channels) with the introduction of a ‘double screen’ effect if one is watching one game but drama is unfolding in the other – as well as brilliant all-round coverage and insightful punditry from the likes of Martin Clarke and Billy Joe Padden.

Generally there is a certain correlation between the number of rounds bought in the pub and the closer a conversation gets to either solving the county’s problems or condemning an entire generation altogether

Oul Lads/Ladies In Pubs and Post Offices, Young Lads/Ladies In The UCD Clubhouse and Lectures

For every minute of Gaelic football or hurling that actually gets played, many more are spent discussing in great and exhaustive detail a team’s strengths and weaknesses, the manager’s cluelessness/genius, any problems within the county ‘structures’, how many attended the most recent game (and whether this shows ‘apathy’ or ‘enthusiasm’ within the county) and ‘that (insert term of choice) Brolly’. Generally there is a certain correlation between the number of rounds bought in the pub and the closer the conversation gets to either solving the county’s problems or condemning an entire generation altogether.

The ‘old days’ are invariably a feature of such talk – unless (as is the case with most UCD students) one is too young to have experienced any ‘old days’. And invariably some form of gossip is relayed with unrelenting certainty and conviction, the teller revelling in their position as the one ‘in the know’. Now, given how important these conversations are – in sport in general, not just GAA – what better to fuel such talk than the League? While still leaving uncertainty as to where a county truly lies, it nevertheless gives a decent indicator – and matches are regular enough to provide plentiful matter for conversation. The League is the perfect fuel for the chatter that is so vital for raising anticipation levels ahead of the Championship.

Roll on Championship, you say? We’re already counting down the days until League 2018…

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