Jamie Wall chats to Denis Hurley ahead of the Fitzgibbon Cup start
WHEN talk turns to burnout in the GAA, it’s never too long before the suggestion is made that third-level competitions could be pruned or downgraded. Sure, who has any real interest in them?
Now a student of law and accounting at the University of Limerick, Kilbrittain man Jamie Wall is more than happy to put forward the case for the defence.
Last year saw a change in that the finals of the Sigerson, Fitzgibbon and lower-level competitions were held separately to the semi-finals rather than as part of a weekend jamboree. Twenty-six-year-old Wall – whose Mary Immaculate College side begin their campaign away to Dublin IT on Sunday – can see why that happened, but he wouldn’t be happy to see a further erosion of the prestige of these events. In fact, he’d like to see more promotion go into them.
‘I understood why the weekend had to go, from a player welfare point of view,’ he says.
‘Two games in two days is tough going but, in saying that, there are counties I know that are training three days of the weekend at the moment, under managers who bemoaned the weekend.
‘Everyone has their own axe to grind and I certainly don’t take it personally, everyone has their own agenda and it’s naïve not to acknowledge that. Obviously, people will say I’ve a vested interest in terms of the Fitzgibbon and I do, but from a number of points of view.
‘I think it’s a serious competition and I think the majority of players would rate a Fitzgibbon medal higher than a league medal.
‘I’ve heard Feargal McGill of the GAA talk about putting it before Christmas and I think that that would be the slow death of the Fitzgibbon and Sigerson.
‘There’s time for them – start them a week earlier in January and finish them a week earlier. We have quarter-finals in the hurling league, you can come fourth in Division 1B and end up in the quarter-finals, that’s ludicrous. They were a complete sop to keep people from complaining with Division 1 was split.
‘If you start the colleges competitions a week earlier and take away the league quarter-finals, that’s two weekends freed up. There’s a league-based championship now too so those players have enough going on, you don’t need that extra round.’
‘I think having the competitions at the start of the year means they serve as a launchpad. If they were before Christmas, they’d be seen as a box to tick to wind down the year.’
The reach of third-level GAA will obviously never match that of the inter-county scene, but that doesn’t mean that its potential can’t be maximised.
‘It’s been said to me that the general public don’t care, but the student bodies in a lot of colleges would be larger than most clubs, and by and large they care,’ Wall says.
‘The promotion needs a lot of work. There have been some efforts but we need to be broadcasting the games.
‘We should be going to TG4 and asking them to show these games on a Wednesday night. If you look at the scores put up, colleges hurling is more entertaining than inter-county – you don’t have time to build a defensive system, so you just put out your six best backs and try to outscore the opposition.’
Two years ago, Wall led Mary I to the Fitzgibbon in his first year as manager, having been a selector under Eamonn Cregan the previous year as the college won for the first time. While he doesn’t notice a dramatic difference in himself or the job, he acknowledges subtle changes over that relatively short timeframe.
‘With the Fitzgibbon anyway, over the three years I’ve had to adapt a bit,’ he says.
‘It’s gotten hot and heavy in terms of the inter-county scene, you’re giving up more to county teams than you were – to a lot of them anyway, not to all of them.
‘It’s getting harder to get access to players, particularly after Christmas. If we have a young fella who’s close to getting his go with the county, we don’t want to stand in his way. The college is going to be there for four years – and they can be four great years – but then they’ll have ten years trying to make a county career and you don’t want to jeopardise your chances.
‘Maybe in previous years, we had players who were more established with their counties and they could say no. You knew there was no issue there but now you’re ringing managers to see who they’re using because you don’t want to overdo it with them.
‘If they see that you want them to go well with the county, you’ll get it back. From talking to managers of other colleges, it’s the same all around the country. You’re trying to build a team based on snippets and build around what you know is coming back.’
Last year, Mary I lost their crown in the quarter-finals, losing to eventual finalists DCU Dóchas Éireann. But Wall makes the point that it was far from a disaster, though.
As well as his Mary I duties, last year Wall managed the Kilbrittain U21s and also coached Limerick senior side Kilmallock. Dealing with older players obviously means a different dynamic than with a college side, but it was something he enjoyed and he is looking forward to 2019.
Away from the GAA pitch, there is college, across town in UL. Having enrolled in first year in the autumn, Wall is expecting first-semester results on Friday, but he’s not panicking.
‘I’m not sweating as much as I used to when I was in college originally,’ he says.
‘Nowadays, it’s not a dirty thing to say you’re trying to do well. I’ll be 30 when I finish, there isn’t much time to be wasting.
‘You want to have a fair idea you can do something straightaway after graduating, but you don’t want to realise halfway through that you’ve made the wrong call.
‘I’m really enjoying it, the law side a bit more so far but that could change. The options are kept open and that was part of the attraction.’