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Short Championship season will deliver a rare treat for GAA supporters

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Donegal’s Stephen McMenamin with Tyrone’s Liam Rafferty and Ronan McNamee

Donegal’s Stephen McMenamin with Tyrone’s Liam Rafferty and Ronan McNamee

Donegal’s Stephen McMenamin with Tyrone’s Liam Rafferty and Ronan McNamee

I consider myself to be in a privileged position right now. The fact that the two outstanding rounds of the Allianz Football League are being played behind closed doors means that media personnel - pundits, analysts and journalists - are among the chosen few who can gain access to grounds.

So it was for me last weekend when I was fortunate enough to be at the Monaghan v Kerry game in Inniskeen and the Donegal v Tyrone tie in Ballybofey.

Both were Division One matches, which obviously meant that I had the opportunity to make an up close and personal assessment of the elite talent that was on view, and I can tell you that I was mightily impressed.

Even in the opening minutes of the Inniskeen tie, Kerry's golden boy David Clifford made me catch my breath after he pivoted smartly and from an oblique angle potted a magnificent point.

This was just one of several outstanding caveats in a game that ebbed and flowed and underlined what, for me, was the awesome levels of strength and conditioning within both teams.

We were watching players who had not been engaged at the highest level for seven months yet they were able to create mesmerising moves, take marvellous scores and maintain a work rate that was absolutely breathtaking as far as I was concerned.

If that match left a huge impression on me, then I was equally consumed by the passion, commitment and skill on offer at Ballybofey on Sunday.

Donegal in particular made a big impact on me. Here was a team that had been kicking their heels for quite some time, yet their pace, fluency and appetite impressed me, as did the passion of their manager Declan Bonner, who clearly has his heart set on capturing what would be a third successive Ulster title.

To be fair, Tyrone were not that far behind them, with Conor McKenna, fresh from his term in the Australian Football League, looking particularly sharp.

Tyrone are known for their stamina and staying power, and I believe that these qualities will underpin their drive for success over the coming weeks.

There is no doubt that the highest standards of strength and conditioning now pertain in all codes right across the GAA.

I stopped playing inter-county football in 2008, and in the intervening years I have watched as levels of strength and conditioning have gone into the stratosphere.

In the not too distant past it was generally always the case that those teams who were consistent trophy winners were well ahead of the field when it came to fitness and strength, but with more and more coaches having gained qualifications in this respect, this is currently being reflected in the way in which nearly all teams approach matches.

I remain convinced that Gaelic football is still a wonderful game when it is played with skill and positivity - indeed, it can be quite enthralling.

I was fortunate to enjoy two top-class matches last weekend and naturally that has left me hungry for more of the same.

There may be those who would continue to cast doubts over the athleticism and fitness of GAA players, even at the top level, but if they had been in my company last weekend they would have been provided with irrefutable evidence that the sport is indeed in an extremely healthy position and looks set to continue to flourish given the emphasis that is currently being put on strength and conditioning.

The physique, fitness levels, pace and power of the top players are to be admired, and the manner in which those players have worked so hard to attain this level of overall conditioning also has to be admired, indeed envied.

While, as things stand, we are due a short, sharp Championship season, I believe that we are in for a rare treat because of the high-level fare that will undoubtedly be on offer.

It may not quite be a survival of the fittest but it will certainly be a survival of the best prepared all-round sides.

Stream rising to the top as an invaluable addition for all

Matches are being played behind closed doors at all levels right now but this does not mean they are not generating considerable public interest.

Far from it. The stands and terraces may be empty, but the fact that games are being widely streamed has opened up a whole new avenue of communication that has captivated the public.

People may not be allowed to go along and see matches but the efficient manner in which streaming, complete with live commentary and slick analysis, is on offer means that fans are missing out on little if anything.

Not only does streaming help to give followers a ringside seat at matches, as it were, but it is also proving a lucrative money-earner for the GAA at a time when it is desperately in need of financial resources.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had people text me from as far away as Australia, the United States and Canada to let me know how much they enjoyed matches streamed into their living rooms.

While such followers continue to take an avid interest in their own club and county teams, they can also enjoy watching the elite teams in action.

While there are quite a number of games being shown live on TV right now, there is an intimacy and homeliness about streaming that appeals to me, and indeed from what I am hearing this applies to an awful lot of other people as well.

I think being able to keep pace with teams' fortunes sustains the morale and spirits of people and, indeed, keeps them stimulated.

I envisage that the streaming service as we now know it will be further enhanced, and with people being able to watch for a very modest amount, they are getting excellent value.

I would even go so far as to suggest that if we are in the same position next year, then an even more sophisticated service may be on offer.

It is good to note that the GAA benefits from the revenue that is garnered through this process because we know that the bulk of this will then be re-invested in each particular code.

And this being the case, isn't everyone a winner?

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