The 10 controversies that will almost certainly light up the GAA summer
What started with a bang in New York will continue with a whimper in Leinster and Ulster this weekend.
The GAA Championship season is properly upon us, it is just a shame the fixtures
computer committee could not throw up slightly more exciting early fixtures than Carlow v Louth, Laois v Wicklow, Offaly v Longford and Fermanagh v Antrim.
The Offaly soap opera that is the Leinster SHC round robin has been rumbling on but the summer really kicks off next weekend with Wexford v Kildare in the football, Wexford v Dublin in the hurling, Leitrim v Roscommon, Derry v Tyrone and Tipperary v Cork in the hurling.
Why could some of those barn-burners not have been played this weekend? This has the hint of a controversy and, let's be honest, it is the controversies that sustain the GAA summer.
The calls to Liveline, the yes v no debates in the newspapers, the ironic banners, the local radio state of the nation addresses... it is the controversies that live longer in the memory than the games.
The beauty of the GAA controversy is you can never be sure what the summer will throw up, but we have had a look into our crystal O'Neills and tried to predict 10 controversies that could define the 2016 season.
1. Kerry and Galway play least Leinster SHC semi-final of all time. Cheddar Plunkett quits again
This is based on a real controversy (at least a controversy in utero). The winners of the Leinster hurling round robin play Galway, while the runners up play Laois. So, to repeat, the prize for winning the four-team mini-group is a quarter-final meeting with 2015 All-Ireland finalists Galway, while second-place earns you a meeting with Laois - who beat Westmeath to stay in Division 1B and last summer lost their manager after two of his squad played club matches without his permission. FUBAR. We predict Kerry finish second, beat Laois and then play Galway in the "Leinster" semi-final, much to the chagrin of traditionalists. Liveline phones hop, Cheddar Plunkett resigns in protest.
2. Waterford footballers spend summer in New York. Joe Brolly calls it the death of football. GPA rule the airwaves
This is another one that doesn't require a huge leap of imagination. Waterford are one of the worst football teams in the country. The odds suggest they will lose their Munster SFC opener with Tipperary on May 29th. Get the wrong draw and three weeks later they could be out of the Championship in the first round of the qualifiers. Cue young men boarding flights to the east coast of America for unforgettable summers of low-grade football and hi-jinks. Youth, as some call it. Or, the death of football. Waterford not winning the All-Ireland will be used as further proof that the Championship is broken, the GPA will say they told us so. Joe Brolly will blame the blanket defence.
3. Mayo players photographed with Nigel Farage. Steven Rochford forced to distance himself from Brexit campaign
With Britain gripped by the referendum campaign to determine whether or not they stay in the European Union. UKIP leader Nigel Farage, never one to miss a PR opportunity, rocks out to Ruislip for Mayo's Connacht SFC quarter-final with London. Sensing a picture with these poster boys of integration might strengthen his campaign, Farage squeezes into a picture with Andy Moran and Cillian O'Connor. In a delicious reverse of the viral 'Mayo for Sam' campaign, it is the turn of the men of the west to distance themselves from an opportunist with an agenda.
4. Offaly hurling fan attempts to self-immolate following relegation to Christy Ring. Can't locate matches or petrol
It's been a tough spring for Offaly. Another disappointing Allianz League campaign ended with the annual shoeing from Kilkenny and the Championship began with a double-score loss to Westmeath. Manager Eamonn Kelly has been detailing the abuse he and the players have received since then. Defeat to Kerry next week could yet see the Faithful County relegated from the senior All-Ireland Championship, which would be a new low for the county. We predict angry scenes outside O'Connor Park in Tullamore, where one furious fan threatens to set himself on fire. He soon gives up when he can't find his matches or petrol. It is not only the county board who has failed to get the structures and systems in place.
5. Charlie McGettigan heckled as Leitrim's attempt to go viral backfire spectacularly
Always a feisty encounter, Leitrim GAA chiefs try to cash in on the exposure afforded by the local derby with Roscommon in Carrick on Shannon by trying to recreate a little viral magic from earlier in the year. When the CD player packed in, a local GAA official grabbed the microphone and sang Amhrán na bhFiann ahead of an All-Ireland junior club semi-final. In an attempt to improve on this spontaneous moment of magic, Leitrim again stage a PA failure, with Eurovision hero and Drumshanbo singing legend Charlie McGettigan standing in the wings to save the day. However local rivalries take hold and McGettigan's rock 'n' roll anthem is drowned out by heckling from the visiting Rossies. A shameful day for Ireland, democracy and Eurovision.
6. Jim Gavin regrets "regrettable incident" as he finally snaps. Calls reporters anti-Dublin a**eholes and tries to choke them with new Dublin jersey. Sponsors displeased
Ironically, it was a question about sponsorship that saw Dublin lose several blue chip sponsors. Jim Gavin, for so long a picture of calm, patience and forbearance, finally saw his military calm break. At the Dublin jersey launch the All-Ireland winning manager was asked if the new 360-degree collar technology gave Dublin an unfair advantage in the Leinster Championship. After years of staying calm in face of provocative questions about Dublin's perceived material leg-ups, the pilot lost his cool, attacking the reporter with a jersey and and turning the air bluer than the new climalite garment. Dublin lose their official toothpaste and hairnet suppliers as companies try to distance themselves from the unsavoury incident.
7. Dublin fan raises voice in Uncle Sams. Motions put before Congress calling for all Dublin games to be played at Croke Park
All eyes are on Kilkenny on the first Saturday of June as the Dublin footballers play their first Championship match outside Croke Park since a trip to Longford a decade ago. The novelty of the setting blinds fans to the unappealing opponents (either Laois or Wicklow) and they descend in their droves on the Marble City. Rumours of cans and naggins being consumed on the trains and buses cannot be confirmed but, several pubs in the city are known to have served visiting supporters from both counties. By the end of the night the locals are reporting merry fans roaming the home of hurling but the mood is soured when one individual (of unknown origin) shouts at a staff member in Uncle Sams when they ignored his request for no cheese on his taco fries. Local councillors are horrified at the incident and Kilkenny County Board brings a motion before Congress calling for all Dublin games to be played at Croke Park (behind closed doors).
8. Aidan O'Shea quits Mayo panel to take part in Irish edition of 'I'm a Celebrity...'
Having already proven he has the on-screen presence and tiny pink shorts to make it on TV, 'Toughest Trade' star Aidan O'Shea rocks the GAA world by quitting the Mayo panel to take part in the first Irish series of 'I'm a Celebrity, get me out of here!' The Breaffy man's decision is a huge blow to Stephen Rochford, his Mayo team-mates and the endorsement industry - who must find another GAA player for their weekly launches in Cork Park Suite 686.
9. Marty Morrissey turns down Irish edition of 'I'm a Celebrity...' as he also abandons latter stages of Championship to report from Rio
Many believed RTÉ GAA correspondent Marty Morrissey would be a prime candidate for the reality TV show but the Clare native had his mind on a different spectacle - namely the Olympic Games in Rio. After the success of his reports from the boxing in London, Morrissey is once more detailed to follow Taylor, Conlan, Barnes and the rest in the ring. The Kerry hurlers are gutted that their unlikely run to the All-Ireland semi-final is not given that special 'Marty touch' with a week of reporting from the county's northern hurling heartlands.
10. Scuffles break out at the national training centre as Dublin players call dibs on all gym equipment and the replica Croke Park pitch in run-up to All-Ireland final
Inevitable, wasn't it? Ever since the Battle of Omagh, tensions have been high between Dublin and Tyrone, but in the run up to a first All-Ireland final between the counties since 1995 things are particularly tense. Having repeatedly said they had no interest in the new centre of excellence in Abbotstown, despite paying for and fitting the gym equipment, the Dublin footballers turn up at the west Dublin facility on the same day as Mickey Harte's panel, one week ahead of the decider. Attempts to share the pitch failed when Tyrone took the imaginary Hill 16 end and things got out of hand entirely in the gym afterwards when an unnamed Dublin player brushed against Tiernan McCann whilst doing some squats. Thankfully Marty Morrissey was back from Rio to report on the damage to the Tyrone wing forward's hair.