Five things the fixtures task force must do - and five more that are up for debate

Five things the fixtures task force must do - and five more that are up for debate
Declan Hannon lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup last August - but should the All-Ireland final go back to its traditional September date? Right, Kevin O'Donovan, the only Munster man on the task force

Just one Munster man — Cork GAA CEO Kevin O’Donovan — is involved in the new fixtures task force (four from Leinster, three each from Connacht and Ulster) but at least there are several members hailing from dual counties.

As they begin, this weekend, to examine the entirety of the GAA year before coming up with proposals, it’s best that the season is seen as a whole and not just by those focused on one code.

With CPA representation on the committee in the form of Michael Higgins, there will be a plea for a blank canvas.

If that, as you would hope, is the case, here are five do’s and five debates:

The five do’s

1. Establish a defined inter-county closed season and punish offenders severely

When those leading the way recognise that quality trumps quantity in training, there is little or no value in getting a headstart.

Waterford’s Brian O’Halloran on Tuesday revealed they returned to training in October. Players respond so positively to having down-time.

If Shane O’Donnell, Jonathan Glynn, Mick O’Grady, Joe Cooney, Rory O’Carroll, and Niall McNamee have shown anything this year, it’s that a rest can be just good as a pre-season.

2. End pre-season competitions

There are two arguments against this — challenge matches will fill the void and the gate receipts from some of the competitions go towards player injury funds. But the benefits of doing away with them are plentiful, such as freeing up space and giving teams more pre-season autonomy. Several counties, most of them successful, realise the competitions aren’t necessary either. Connacht Council secretary John Prenty, a task force member, will certainly call for them to be removed.

3. Give summer back to the clubs

Our preference is for the club and county scene to go hand-in-hand and the 13-day rule to be used more as a guide as to when to stage club games in the summer. Basically, any time a county team has more than two weeks between matches, the opportunity to stage club championships games should be availed of. This is trickier for dual counties, of course, and even trickier when a county is on a roll, but the inter-county scene should not be entitled to the best weather.

4. Move or ring-fence the Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cups

The semesterisation of the college calendar has not only been the biggest stumbling block to rescheduling the third level competitions; there are those high up in the Association who remember when the GAA had little presence in some colleges and universities and fear switching it could damage its profile.

Either they are played prior to pre-Christmas exams or leave them as they are but prevent players involved from playing in the National League until such time as their third level competition interests are over.

5.Nail calendar year issue once and for all

The proposal to move the All-Ireland club finals to January, ie the 13-month season, seems as genuine a compromise as can be made without impinging on dual counties who have more fixtures to play off. If more can be done to squeeze the season without turning them into one-code counties, then say so, or forever hold your peace.

The five debates

1.Combine U17 and U20 into a new U19 format

Well-placed fears about the pressure on 15- and 16-year-olds playing on a national stage in front of tens of thousands have regularly been expressed since minor dropped to U17 last year. It is unfair to heap such expectation on young shoulders.

As for the U20 football championship, interest in it has declined since its inception and one wonders how the new U20 hurling competition will fare having been so successful in its U21 guise. Amalgamating the U17 and U20 and making this the first inter-county competition teenagers play in and the last stepping stone towards the senior game, would strengthen the grade.

2. Staggered seasons

Why must the inter-county football and hurling championships run concurrently? Football is a more robust sport that can begin earlier than hurling without suffering as a spectacle but if the latter is to be seen at its best it should be played in better weather and that goes for the league too.

Obviously, the two codes would still overlap but at least the constant comparison between the sports would lessen and more broadcasting coverage would be provided to both.

3. Provincial round-robins for football

They’re already in for hurling and while not entirely perfect, they could serve as a great way of getting Division 3 and 4 football counties up and running to take on stronger sides while giving them one or two more games.

They could also offset tensions regarding the pending tiered championship.

4. Return All-Ireland SHC final to September

In their valiant attempt to rebalance the county-club axis, the GAA’s Central Competitions Control Committee squeezed too much of the All-Ireland inter-county competitions.

It reflects poorly on the existing TV rights deal and the lack of profile and coverage given to some provincial games, especially in football, have been regrettable. But then the GAA won’t want everything shown.

So many games on the same weekend means something loses out and tightening the grip again will only push more matches into insignificance.

Complemented by a later Championship start, playing the hurling and football finals in September would reclaim the month for the GAA and it can be done without impinging on club activity.

5. Redraft Allianz Hurling League Division 1

Given the task force’s brief is wide and incorporates competition structures, why not avail of the chance to revisit next year’s League, which is so abundantly top heavy that it is going to be embarrass the GAA.

Cork, Galway, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford and Westmeath comprise Group A with Carlow, Clare, Dublin, Kilkenny, Laois and Wexford in Group B.

The groups were determined based on league finishes this year but is there anything to be said for a redraw?

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