‘Option A’ a first step to restoring cut and thrust of Cork championship

Kevin O’Donovan, CEO, Cork County Board speaking at last night's Cork County Board meeting at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Seated on the left are, Mark Sheehan, vice-chairman and chairperson, Tracey Kennedy. Picture: Dan Linehan.

Cork GAA has been in the national news over the past few months, the majority of the headlines reflecting negatively on the county.

This past week saw the powers that be of Cork GAA back in the media limelight, though this time there was praise for the inclusion of

Option C in proposals for a revamped county championship. It was seen as an attempt to cater for club players during the summer months and represented a different, more modern, way of thinking from the new executive, as the winds of positive change blow gently through the administration.

Option C, to play some games without inter-county players, was never going to succeed, but it was obviously important for the board’s executive ‘to be seen’ to be aware of club players’ concerns surrounding the games schedule and the lack of championship action during the summer.

In theory, the county board is comprised of representatives of the various clubs.

Over the years, power was concentrated in the hands of the few and the board’s executive made the decisions which were then rubber-stamped by club reps.

On this occasion, clubs got the chance to debate the options and the restructuring of the championship is their democratic decision.

Option A, with one game in April and two in August, was the favourite to be adopted and so it proved. No championship activity will take place in May, June or July in 2020.

Delegates at last night's Cork County Board meeting at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Dan Linehan
Delegates at last night's Cork County Board meeting at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Dan Linehan

It doesn’t solve the problem of club activity throughout the summer and, with two games in both codes in August for dual clubs, it won’t do a whole lot for the hair colour and stress levels of the respective managers.

However, it provides certainty around championship fixtures and this was always a major concern for players.

In past years, announcements in the summer that the championship would recommence the week after Cork finished their inter-county commitments were distinctly unfair to players and their families. This led to major frustration for players.

It was also virtually impossible for team managers and coaches to have players in peak condition on a given day with little notice.

Games could be fixed and then postponed once Cork made progress in the championship. This type of half-baked scheduling brought the association into disrepute.

Efforts were made a few years ago to revamp the championships. In 2015, current Cork chairperson Tracey Kennedy, new CEO Kevin O’Donovan, as well as Dairygold CEO Jim Woulfe, were part of a strategic review committee that brought forward similar proposals.

Tracey Kennedy at last night's meeting. Photo: Dan Linehan.
Tracey Kennedy at last night's meeting. Photo: Dan Linehan.

The county was criss-crossed far and wide, and a wide selection of players, coaches, managers administrators were consulted.

The proposals for 2020 were put back on the table by the games development committee and are very close to those of the strategic review group of 2015.

Effectively, so, these new proposals have had a gestation period of over four years.

They were rejected by the CCCC back in 2015. Instead, a format running until 2019 was adopted. Surprisingly, there was no relegation and this was a major weakness.

In theory, with the new Option A, beginning in 2020, two championship games will be fixed for August.

I say ‘in theory’, because if Cork reach the All-Ireland final in either code, these fixtures may be disrupted.

Of course, most club players accept that there will be postponements if Cork are in contention at the business end of the season. In reality, this looks a possibility only for the hurlers in 2020.

Club fixtures cannot be made in isolation. The inter-county systems, the Super 8 and the ‘round robin’ for hurling impact massively on local fixtures.

These structures finish their three-year trial period next year. Do these new fixture plans indicate that the Cork delegates will be voting for the retention of the round-robin and Super 8 when a vote is taken?

There are concerns with the round-robin.

Cork hurlers reached the All-Ireland semi-final last year. There are high hopes in the county that they will be involved in the last week of July again this year.

However, there are no guarantees. Cork’s programme in the Munster championship is particularly difficult this year:

Tipp come to Cork for the first game, the Rebels then travel to Limerick for game two, before the Déise visit Cork, with the final game in Clare. It’s an exacting schedule. Cork will have a break of three weeks in the middle of the championship before the Waterford game, but there is just seven days between games one and two and three and four.

This schedule hinders organisation and planning, as there will be time for only two light training/coaching sessions between the matches.

Rest and recovery will take precedence in those seven-day periods.

Those concerns aside, the new Cork structure confirms the club game will work around the inter-county game for the foreseeable future.

Option A is a first step, which is badly needed in the local hurling arena. Currently, there is a lack of cut and thrust in senior championship hurling, with too many teams. Hopefully, this revamp will begin a renaissance of sorts and that, over time, Cork clubs can be more competitive locally and in senior Munster competition.

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