IF Cork GAA fans voted with their feet to the tune of a €200,000 drop in local gate receipts this year, little wonder that injecting life into the 2020 county championships is keeping Cork CEO Kevin O’Donovan awake until the small hours.
40% of Cork GAA’s end of year deficit is down to falling attendances.
A new championship format for next year is one thing but there’s a continuing divide over the involvement of divisions and colleges. And getting the games played in a dual county at the height of the playing season in summer is another massive headache to grapple with, O’Donovan indicates in his report to next Sunday’s annual convention.
He has admitted this year’s championship was ‘stale’ and ‘sterile’, and the new group format can only go so far in addressing that.
O’Donovan asserts: “The continued removal of Club Championships from the summer months will mean the end of the GAA as we know it in Cork and in my own opinion will do irreparable damage to the fabric of the club game which is the primary participation outlet for 99% of our players.
“Any format which does not allow the progression of county championships across the summer months does not ultimately serve Cork adequately. The holy grail for anyone with a love of Gaelic Games within this particular dual county must be a concurrent season with club and county competitions progressing in parallel.
The Cork CEO sits on Croke Park’s Fixtures Calendar Review Task Force and believes it has been unfairly maligned by those who argue it has done little to better the lot of the club player.
“A significant and urgent rebalancing of the games calendar in favour of club games is essential. Despite populist opinion and spurious rumour, it was a position that was widely shared within the review committee. The fairness and openness to ideas shown within the group, chaired by Eddie O’Sullivan, gives me great hope that wide-ranging improvements are close at hand.
“This is so, particularly in the area of governance, which, while not likely to capture the imagination, will assist in the availability of county players to their clubs and encourage further reforms in the future.”
O’Donovan accepts in his report that the divisions and colleges “are here to stay.
“And yet, one would need superior levels of indifference to ignore the rumblings at club level and the reduced excitement (and indeed subsequent attendances) when club teams exit the championship at the hands of a divisional or college team.
“For smaller clubs that have fought their way through the ranks to Senior to face a juggernaut at a later stage of the championship is questionable.
“As a member of a Junior Club who has played with, coached and managed divisional teams, I have no agenda in terms of the removal of representative teams from our competitions.
“Giving the opportunity to players from the Junior ranks is important, not to mind the promotional value of such teams in promoting for example hurling in Duhallow/Carbery or football in Imokilly. Therefore, a middle ground must be found.”
O’Donovan offers three solutions to the conundrum;
“If the true goal of such teams is opportunity and providing exposure for players who would not otherwise gain recognition, perhaps one of the above might be an option.”
O’Donovan says that while the provision of extra games via the new group format will increase participation levels in 2020, such benefits would be negated by an overly-condensed schedule next August, particularly for dual clubs.
“And yet, the group format and the provision of a minimum of three championship games to all teams now allows games between teams with no county players to be played mid-summer.
“This was not possible previously as many teams would exit the championship if defeated in their second game, but now as this game would be a second game of three, all teams would have something to play for in their third game in August.
“After consultation with both Senior managers to clarify panels, it is hoped that a significant number of games between teams that have no County players would be fixed during the summer months.
“For a county with our history, resources and challenges, it is an opportunity too good to pass up.”