John Fogarty: The highs and lows of the GAA's national fixtures taskforce proposals

John Fogarty: The highs and lows of the GAA's national fixtures taskforce proposals

As the Irish Examiner reported last month, the recommendations of the national fixtures taskforce are so extensive that they will require a roadshow and a special congress. What can be described as the highlights and lowlights of the document?

HIGHLIGHTS

“Central Council to approve, in principle, that Galway club champions participate in one of the other three provincial senior club hurling championships.”

Verdict: Not only does this make sense as a streamlining mechanism, it’s only fair that Galway champions should be made come through the same provincial hurdle to reach the All-Ireland stage. A lot of restructuring has been done to incorporate Galway in the minor and U20 competitions, and while the seniors deserve a better financial deal for their involvement in the Leinster senior hurling championship, Galway have to understand that selective isolation at senior club level can no longer be used as an advantage.

“Rule to be introduced that county club senior and intermediate championships to consist of a maximum of 16 teams, with a two-year lead-in period for counties to adjust their competition structure.”

Verdict: Uniformity of club championship structures is an idealistic plan, but, then, this isn’t about systems, but the numbers on the starting line. The disparity between what constitutes senior and intermediate level in counties can be huge and if the integrity of the provincial and All-Ireland club championships is to be protected, then there has to be consistency in the number of competitors, from the outset.

“‘Ten-day rule’ to cover all club games (not just club championship)”

Verdict: Apart from creating more space for club activity, this would be the biggest win for clubs, were it to come in. How realistic it is, though, is another question. Like the inter-county moratorium (from the end of the All-Ireland championships, in August, to December 1) and no inter-county challenge games being played in April, it would have to be policed vigorously, unlike previous measures, to work.

“Minor (U17) inter-county championships should become tiered developmental competitions and be decoupled from senior All-Ireland semi-finals and finals.”

Verdict: We will hear more about this from the talent academy report, which will be launched in Croke Park tomorrow. The past two seasons of All-Ireland minor finals at U17 have highlighted the stark difference, in terms of quality, from U18. The first All-Ireland finals available to players should come at an older age.

LOWLIGHTS

Option 2 for All-Ireland SFC: “National League Divisions 1 to 4 would move to the summer months and determine qualification for the All-Ireland series. Top four in Division 1 and top two in Division 2 go to All-Ireland quarter-finals (six teams). Top team in Division 3 and 4, along with teams placed third and fourth in Division 2 (four teams), to go into qualifier games to play against the top two teams in Division 1 in quarter-finals.”

Verdict: Already, the GAA are suggesting this can be changed and we hope that is the case. Giving knock-out places to teams ranked 11th, 12th, 17th, and 25th, instead of those positioned fifth to eighth, is preposterous. There is a simple solution, though — the top six teams and the two promoted teams from Division 2 comprise the last eight.

“General rule to state the Sigerson Cup must be completed on/or before the fifth Sunday of the year; Fitzgibbon Cup to be completed on/ or before the seventh Sunday of the year.”

Verdict: How ironic it is the Sigerson Cup will culminate in DCU next month, just as examinations in the university will have taken place. That clash of tests with football is hardly ideal, but, then, attempting to find a happy medium, when other third-level institutions stage exams prior to Christmas, is difficult. February wasn’t perfect, but it’s better than shoehorning the games into January.

“Rule to state that U20 football championship be played in February/March. Eligibility to be restricted to players who have not played in the National Football League in that year.”

Verdict: The awful decision to return the U20 competition to spring and further condense a claustrophobic time of year for young adults will be keenly felt in the coming months. Where’s the care for player welfare?

“U20 hurling championship to be restricted to players who have not played in the Liam MacCarthy Cup in that year (until that county is eliminated from the senior championship).”

Verdict: What has the U20 hurling championship done to be treated in such a way? The examples of players like Adrian Mullen, Jake Morris, and Jerome Cahill showed, this year, that the two can work in tandem. The argument about it being less convenient for clubs seems a weak one.

Cluxton’s future occupies Dubs

John Fogarty: The highs and lows of the GAA's national fixtures taskforce proposals

After what was widely considered a fine performance on The Late, Late Toy Show it didn’t take long for Ryan Tubridy to lose some of that lustre last Friday when he described Michael Darragh Macauley as “the greatest GAA star of the modern era”.

If he said it once, it wouldn’t have been too bad but three times? Macauley has been a vital part of Dublin’s success, is a former footballer of the year and a two-time All-Star but he wouldn’t make too many people’s team of the decade. If there was a player more deserving of such a billing that Tubridy has interviewed of late, it was Bernard Brogan but even he would have to defer to Stephen Cluxton.

Apart from the identity of who replaces Jim Gavin, the future of Cluxton is on the minds of most Dublin supporters right now. It’s no surprise that Cluxton has even been mentioned as a possible successor.

Age-wise, there would be little difference to the last three Dublin managers the 38-year-old worked under. Pat Gilroy was shy of turning 38 when he took over Dublin, Gavin 41 when he succeeded him and Paul Caffrey was 42.

Cluxton has tended to lead more by action than words, though, and he may feel that apart from still having so much to offer as a player, the position mightn’t suit him.

Not because he would be too close to players (Cluxton wouldn’t lack ruthlessness), but he couldn’t set an example as he has done for so many years.

If, as expected, Dessie Farrell is handed the reins Gavin surrendered last Saturday week, then he will have either contacted his former team-mate before ratification or make it his business to meet him. The stakes have never been greater.

Kennedy shows admirable resolve

John Fogarty: The highs and lows of the GAA's national fixtures taskforce proposals

Kudos to Cork chairperson Tracey Kennedy for articulating just how challenging the county’s financial situation is right now.

At Sunday’s annual convention, she revealed how close she had come to stepping down from the position. “During the past week I descended into self-pity, wondering if it would be better for my own mental and physical health if I just walked away from it all. However, that is not what I want to do. I want to take on the many opportunities we have to continue our improvements. I want to stand before you this time next year with Cork GAA in a much better place.”

It will be thought, if not said, that Kennedy — because she is a woman — was able to be frank and honest about the situation she faces as chairperson of the county when the growing costs of Páirc Uí Chaoimh’s redevelopment has burdened it so. Would a man be as brave to admit to experiencing such difficulties? You would hope so.

But that is not the point. Yet again the pressures faced by volunteers leading an organisation with a multi-million turnover have been highlighted. A labour of love as it so often is, the stress now associated with leading county boards is reaching a frightening level and making even the most passionate question their pursuits.

Instead of shirking responsibility, Kennedy was last week successful in earning the vacant Cork’s Central Council delegate position.

But how many more will show such determination or seek higher office in the face of such adversity?

- john.fogarty@examiner.ie

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