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Darragh Ó Sé: You can’t tell me Kerry and Cork players have championship adrenaline this week

Players can’t but be affected by the apathy that exists for the provincial games

It’s the week of Kerry v Cork and nobody’s happy. Or they’re not excited anyway, put it like that.

We’re going to Killarney on Saturday and the talk is they’ll be doing well to get 20,000 at it. All our lives, Kerry v Cork was one of the highlights of the summer. Now it’s a thing to get out of the way on a Saturday afternoon.

Time moves on. I get it. There’s nothing worse than some old bore reminiscing about how it was when he was a young lad and saying it was all so much better in his day. The championship has gone through plenty of changes over the years and a lot of them have been for the better. But I still don’t get the sense that anybody is jumping up and down, delighted with what we have at the minute.

Even though I’m a long time retired, my instinct is still to look at these things through the eyes of the players. What are they thinking now? What do they want? They want more games than they used to have, that’s obvious enough. But do they want them all in such a short space of time? I’m not so sure.


I was playing intercounty when the last big change to the championship came into being. We won the All-Ireland in 2000, the last one before the qualifiers came in. We played Cork, Clare, Armagh (twice) and Galway (twice). The All-Ireland final replay was in October.

Funnily enough, the clubs still got their business done. The Munster club final that year was on the first Sunday in December. Last year it was on the second Sunday in December, even though the All-Ireland final was at the end of July. We’ve changed everything around to give the clubs a bit of space and the championships are still taking longer than they were before. That seems to defeat the purpose as far as I can see.

Here’s what I do know. Players want routine. They want timetables and schedules. They want to be told how many training sessions they have a week, how many calories they should be taking in per day, how many litres of water they need. They are the bullets in the gun – they want to be pointed in a certain direction and fired off to do their thing.

When the back door came in at the start of 2000s, plenty of us found that the new routine was something we had to adapt to. All of a sudden, you were playing counties you’d never met before and coming up against players that were completely new to you. In 2002, we were playing qualifiers against Wicklow and Fermanagh. We played Kildare in Semple Stadium in one of the games.

I’m not saying it was harder or easier. I’m saying it was all just a bit different and took a bit of getting used to. But the one thing everyone knew at the time was that the qualifier system wasn’t going anywhere. You were like a foreign exchange student – you either got used to the new language or you headed home with your tail between your legs.

Different scenario these days. If you’re playing in a provincial championship game this week, it has to be very hard to know what’s expected of you. Obviously you’re going out to win. Obviously you’re not pulling out of tackles or taking it handy or anything like that. But players aren’t fools either. They know the difference between what’s going to be happening this weekend and a match in the All-Ireland series.

Even if you broaden it out, they know that there’s a high likelihood that this championship structure won’t be around forever. You can’t tell me that players from Kerry or Cork or Mayo or Roscommon are walking around the place this week with championship adrenaline running through them. They can feel the apathy from the people around the county and they can feel the appetite for the provincial championships falling away.

Everyone who gets themselves to the level of playing intercounty is ambitious. They’ve spent years trying to be the best in their position in their county and now they are trying to be the best in their position in the country. You want to get out there and show how good you are and you want to be doing it in front of big crowds who are engaged and excited. Not seagulls looking for leftover chips.

You have to make these games feel like they matter. There will be more excitement around Kildare v Louth the weekend after next than there will be around Kerry v Cork this weekend. That’s because a place in the Sam Maguire is on the line in that game, whereas both Kerry and Cork know that they will be in the draw for the All-Ireland series. Everybody knows what that means – you need to be ready to go in the middle of May, not the middle of April.

As soon as the league was done, Kerry hightailed it abroad to warm-weather training. Loads of counties did the same. Dublin were able to keep Stephen Cluxton, Mick Fitzsimons and James McCarthy back until last weekend. They’re basically using the Leinster championship as the O’Byrne Cup, easing their older lads back in for when the big stuff starts.

That can’t be what anybody had in mind when they came up with the new championship format. But it’s what we’re stuck with, until the next one comes around.