Timing and tradition. Ask any opponent of the proposal for the GAA season being completed in the calendar year and they would be the two major objections.
The tradition obviously pertains to the St Patrick’s Day staging for the senior finals, though most participating clubs in recent years wouldn’t mind those matches being staged at an earlier date.
While not as time-honoured, there would also be a tradition associated with the break that provincial intermediate and junior club champions have experienced through the New Year to January.
The Christmases enjoyed by the likes of Ardmore, An Ghaeltacht, Kanturk, and Knocknagree were made extra special by the sense of achievement and anticipation.
The gaps between their Munster wins and All-Ireland semi-finals would have also afforded the clubs ample opportunity to fundraise.
Indeed, An Ghaeltacht’s gala night last month for a new pitch, which had been organised prior to their Munster success, couldn’t have been better timed.
Also, it is time that militates against the calendar-year season, particularly among dual counties, whose schedule of matches are that lengthy, that entwined and that interdependent on so many other factors that to finish them ahead of the provincial
competitions is an accomplishment in itself.
In that regard, Tipperary and Waterford have failed to do so in the past and chose to prioritise hurling over football.
As push turns to shove this year and if counties delay championships until September, most of those unfortunate scenarios will arise.
Obviously, the new schedule has prompted counties to alter structures, but many clashes and contradictions will remain. For them, the calendar season would be close to a doomsday scenario, yet is regarded by Croke Park as the missing part of the jigsaw.
The GAA has most of the other pieces, but doesn’t yet know where to place them all. April is being heralded as club-only.
Were it club championship only, it might be more meaningful, but then there are obvious drawbacks about staging two or three important games in spring, four months before the championship might resume.
GAA director general Páraic Duffy rightly forecasted that most counties will postpone their club championships until September, following the conclusion of the All-Ireland senior championships, but then that begs the question: Why is April devoid of competitive inter-county matches if it’s not going to be worthwhile for clubs?
Inter-county managers certainly won’t be putting their tools down, not with mid-May provincial championship starts.
Three years ago, Croke Park chiefs had convinced the association’s management committee that the calendar-year season was the way forward only for Munster counties at Central Council level to hold up the plan.
“You have to be fair, a dual county does have a bigger issue,” said GAA president Aogán Farrell at the time. “If you do have two major field games, it does tend to be that little bit trickier. They tend to be concentrated in Munster.”
The process to implement it was restarted, but there was a realisation the inter-county season firstly had to be condensed.
That step will be taken this year, but Duffy has been mindful not to put the cart before the horse.
In October, he said: “Ideally, yes, I’d like to see all our programmes completed within the calendar year, but it would make sense now to run this (2018) schedule here next year and the following two years and then see, and I think the obvious outcome of that would be that you’d like to get to a situation where you would get to play everything in the calendar year.”
The Club Players Association’s call for all games to be completed in the one 12-month period has also focused minds, as has the recent realisation that Dublin and Limerick could be without players from their 2017 club champions for the entirety of their league campaigns.
The likes of Cork, Galway and Derry’s footballers might not be much better off either, in that
respect. As Limerick’s Shane Dowling remarks elsewhere in these pages, the overlap is “crazy”.
A calendar-year season is a neat idea in more ways than one, but to implement it would put ridiculous pressure on those counties where both the two most prominent Gaelic games are promoted and supported.
Well, we would call it a compromise: Stage the All-Ireland club finals in Croke Park over the January weekend prior to the commencement of the National Leagues.
Martin Skelly, one of the candidates who lost out to John Horan in last year’s presidential race, supported the idea in his campaign: “I believe the club competitions are drawn out too long to go as far as St Patrick’s Day.”
If March 17 is to be sacrificed for the greater good, then so be it. Better that for clubs than the pretence of calling the inter-county season to a halt for a month.
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