We have scarcely dipped our toes into the waters of 2022 and already we are confronted by an issue which is certain to trigger even more discussion now that the inter-county season has swung into action.
The decision of the GAA powers-that-be to confirm that every Championship match at whatever level must be played to a finish on the day has sparked criticism in some quarters.
And this is hardly surprising given that penalty shoot-outs tend to see pressure heaped on individual players as they strive to ease their side over the finishing line, usually against a tension-laden background.
While this method of deciding the outcome of a game has gained a somewhat reluctant degree of acceptance at senior level, it’s a rather different story at under-age level where young players have been known to be consumed with anguish when they fail to find the net with a crucial shot from the spot.
But there are two sides to every story. I have a certain sympathy with the Croke Park chiefs who year on year find themselves endeavouring to have complex fixtures itineraries in both football and hurling completed within a limited timeframe.
This has become a rather more prickly issue now that the split season looks as if it is here to stay.
With the All-Ireland Hurling and Football Finals pencilled in for the latter half of July this year, what do you think the reaction up and down the island would be if replays and postponements were to mean that club action might not get under way until maybe late August or early September?
That’s right, there would be an outcry, particularly as the GAA’s mainstream fixtures have already been chiselled in stone.
There is no doubt that penalty shoot-outs can impose enormous pressure on the actual participants yet as I see it they are now a necessary evil in Gaelic football.
But while penalty shoot-outs are far from ideal — neutrals at a match might lap them up, though — they can help ensure that games are decided on the day and thus the fixture makers can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they might just be able to deliver their extensive programme of games on schedule.
I am aware that a number of high-profile officials and players have been expressing their reservations about penalty shoot-outs but given the time constraints of the playing season, I don’t believe replays can be accommodated.
Nor indeed can postponements, and I note that the GAA top brass have already made it clear that there will be no replays except for the All-Ireland Senior Finals where necessary.
If the pay-off for adhering rigidly to the penalty shoot-out mantra is to be that club action can commence as planned with the curtain coming down in advance of Christmas then I think this has to be accepted.
I believe this would be a small price for county teams to have to pay when all is said and done.
There are so many different competitions to be staged between now and the end of July that not to embrace penalty shoot-outs would provide major headaches for the Central Competitions Control Committee.
Sure, teams that draw in a game would welcome the chance to get another bite at the cherry, particularly if they have been singularly fortunate to earn a replay, but this is a luxury which I don’t think such teams can be afforded going forward.
Obviously this year will see a new fixtures timetable adopted and there may well be further changes next year depending on how the debate on the format for the All-Ireland Championships goes at next month’s Annual Congress.
I am fully aware of the heavy burden that is placed on the participants in penalty shoot-outs but I think we have to embrace this step whether we like it or not.
Who knows, in the future a more amenable solution may be found but for now it will be a case of proving ‘spot on’ when penalties are on the menu.
I have always endeavoured to challenge myself in life and now here I go again dipping my toe into uncharted waters — although I hope I don’t drown in the process!
When the opportunity presented itself to become joint manager of the Armagh Under-20 side in tandem with Barry O’Hagan, I thought about it and then decided that I would embrace the task because it would afford me the chance to help develop a tranche of fresh talent that just might reap dividends for Armagh in the future.
While I like to think I have gained a generous measure of experience at third level and in the club sector, this will be my first experience of management in the inter-county sphere.
It will be a step up for me but I see it as something to embrace. I view it as an opportunity to play a part in fashioning the future with the Under-20 players that we bring through perhaps flourishing on the senior stage at some point along the way.
For the moment, it’s down to work and I intend to give this new role everything because I see the Under-20 sector as a vital springboard to senior level.
Given that the U20 season tends to be very short because of its nature, this means we must be ready for a sharp burst of action with games coming thick and fast — we hope! — in a fixed window of time.
Of course, Under-20 players in every county are training with their clubs, colleges or universities and perhaps indeed their senior county squads so you could say that their services are very much in demand.
From my perspective, I along with O’Hagan will be doing my utmost to elicit the best I can from them within the limited time that will be at our disposal.
The manner in which Down won the Ulster U20 Championship title this year shows what can be achieved when players are totally focused and well prepared.
I will of course be viewing football through a different lens but I am more than willing to absorb lessons and thus enhance my coaching knowledge.
Gaelic football is evolving all the time and I am always willing to embrace new principles and strategies. I think I will derive considerable satisfaction from having a part to play in discovering and mentoring fresh talent for Armagh.
I have always been proud to don the tangerine jersey and do my part in striving to bring some element of success to the Orchard County and now I would just love to achieve this from my role on the touchline.