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Pictured Oisin McConville

Date: Wednesday 5th May 2010

Location: Studio

Photographer: Liam McBurney

Copyright: Liam McBurney ©

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Liam McBurney

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It's been a joy to see club action flourish in the absence of county duels during post-lockdown period

Oisin McConville


Dungannon’s Matthew Walsh, Oran Mallon and Kiefer Morgan celebrate at the final whistle on Saturday night

Dungannon’s Matthew Walsh, Oran Mallon and Kiefer Morgan celebrate at the final whistle on Saturday night

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Dungannon’s Matthew Walsh, Oran Mallon and Kiefer Morgan celebrate at the final whistle on Saturday night

When it was initially mooted that the club Leagues and Championships would mark the revival of the 2020 GAA season, there was a mixed reaction from players, officials and fans.

It was felt in some quarters that the legislators should have recommenced playing activity by staging the outstanding two rounds of the Allianz League and then hosting the provincial and All-Ireland Championships before turning their attention to the club scene.

In the event, however, the decision of GAA chiefs to put clubs into the spotlight over the summer months proved something of a masterstroke.

It is fair to claim that we have been provided with some marvellous games, particularly over the course of the past two weekends with the promise of more to come as the various county Championships reach a crescendo.

Games which were televised live or streamed have provided ample proof that in terms of talent the GAA is in a very healthy place at this point in time.

It is not an exaggeration to outline that three Tyrone Senior Football Championship ties in particular - Trillick v Killyclogher, Dungannon Clarkes v Errigal Ciaran and Trillick v Coalisland - captivated the nation.

The Trillick v Killyclogher match was shown live on TG4 while the Dungannon Clarkes v Errigal Ciaran and Trillick v Coalisland Semi-Finals were shown live on RTE 2 and the quality, passion and atmosphere surrounding the games were such that the fact that there were fewer than 400 fans at each contest was rendered inconsequential.

If all five teams made a massive contribution to the enhanced status of Tyrone club football, then Lee Brennan and Mattie Donnelly (both Trillick), Mark Bradley (Killyclogher), Ciaran McGinley (Errigal Ciaran), Paul Donaghy (Dungannon Clarkes) and Tiarnan Quinn (Coalisland) all made a massive contribution to their respective sides' causes.

Their majestic individual performances proved crucial to their teams' overall effort and underlined that Tyrone's reservoir of talent is as deep as ever.

Nor, indeed, should all the plaudits be going in Tyrone's direction. The two Antrim hurling Semi-Finals between Loughgiel and St John's and Dunloy and O'Donovan Rossa reached a scale that one might not have thought possible with the two Belfast sides coming within an inch of delivering what would have been interpreted as major upsets.

Conor Cunning (0-7) and Sean Elliott (0-6) led the Dunloy scoring blitz with James Connolly (0-6) and Tiernan Murphy (0-4) sparking the robust Rossa response. And Loughgiel's nerve-tingling victory over St John's (2-31 to 5-18) would not have been possible without the generous donation of James McNaughton (right) (0-12) and the useful contribution of 0-5 from Eoin McCloskey.

It was much the same only on a somewhat reduced scale in the Antrim Senior Football Championship with Cargin blasting their way into another decider following a 3-9 to 1-13 win over Lamh Dhearg with Pat Shivers and Tomás McCann sharing 2-6 between them, while Paddy Cunningham was on fire for the losers with 1-8.

I myself sampled a measure of disappointment when Ballybay defeated the Inniskeen Grattans side which I manage by 4-19 to 1-25 after extra-time in a spectacular Monaghan Senior Football Championship Semi-Final while Scotstown overcame Carrickmacross in the other Semi by 0-17 to 1-6.

Those who would decry club football surely have reason to rethink their outlook. There is no doubt that the clubs seized their opportunity when they were given the stage to themselves for the best part of the summer and proved that it's not only inter-county teams that can thrill spectators.

What a great pity that crowds for all games were restricted and it was particularly disturbing that in Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan no fans were able to witness some of the riveting contests thus far. The hope is that the crowd restrictions south of the border will be lifted sooner rather than later.

If the pandemic has taught us nothing else in a sporting context, it has shown us that clubs are more than capable of unleashing a high level of entertainment especially when the stakes are high.

There is no doubt that more high-octane games are in the offing, possibly starting with today's Armagh Final between Crossmaglen Rangers and Maghery Sean McDermotts.

When you think that the Antrim, Down, Derry, Tyrone and Fermanagh football Finals have still to be decided, it's no wonder that followers are positively salivating.

The great pity is that the Ulster Club Championship will not be played this year because of time restrictions but perhaps the county Finals will leave us all with a refreshing taste in our mouths going forward.

... and let's hope the counties can keep the high standard going!

Tomorrow is a date that county team managers will have had encircled in their diaries for several months.

It marks the return to collective training by county squads just a month in advance of the resumption of competitive activity which will see the two remaining rounds of the Allianz League played off before the various provincial Championships swing into action.

It has been a long, tedious wait in the eyes of many but for the majority of managers the recent weeks have marked an upsurge in activity.

Managers, including Tyrone's Mickey Harte, have been engaged in assessing fresh talent and taking stock of the fact that they will now be embarking on one of the most hectic periods of their sporting lives.

When time was called on the inter-county itinerary back in early March, there were many who predicted this would end the 2020 season.

Mind you, that could still prove to be the case but for the moment there is a marked spirit of enthusiasm for a return to top-level action.

While county players have been in action with their clubs, they have had the opportunity to get invaluable game time under their belts and although I feel that this will stand to them, they will undoubtedly be under additional pressure to attain a higher level of performance in their county colours.

Not only will teams be playing competitively at an unfamiliar time of the year but they could find themselves endeavouring to combat bad weather.

The opening series of inter-county matches is scheduled for the weekend of October 17-18 and the fact that the menu is particularly appetising means that it might prove easier to entice fans outdoors.

I believe that it is a good idea to stage the outstanding two rounds of the League in the first instance as this will give players the opportunity to find their feet although those who play for teams targeting promotion or battling against relegation may be required to hit the ground running.

Fans are keen to see inter-county action take centre stage again and the fact that the club fare has been impressive throws down the gauntlet to those on inter-county duty.

When you think of Dublin going for their sixth All-Ireland title in succession and Donegal bidding to make it a hat-trick of Ulster crowns, the last two months of the year certainly hold rich promise in terms of sheer quality, excitement and drama. The hope is that this promise is delivered in style.

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