JOHN FOGARTY: Dual counties feel the fixture squeeze

IN FOCUS: Alan Dillon poses for a photo with a fan after Ballintubber's victory over Castlebar Mitchels in the Mayo SFC final in MacHale Park, Castlebar.

Nobody can deny the appeal of finishing the club season in the calendar year. It’s neat, it’s tidy, reports John Fogarty

The gap between provincial finals and All-Ireland semi-finals is so long, it can skew the competition, similar to how the National League was distorted when rounds were played prior to Christmas.

But take a closer look and the fault-lines, the many fault-lines, reveal themselves. The practicality of the Football Review Committee proposal to have everything that is club over and done with by mid-December can be likened to spinning dozens of plates all at once and hoping none of them fall.

Central Council may have given it the green light but just how much consideration has been given to hurling, which will be impacted upon, or dual counties? What about the inter-county championship which, as Munster secretary Simon Moroney says in today’s pages, will have to be condensed if the All-Ireland club competitions are to be concluded three weeks before Christmas?

Would that mean sacrificing September as All-Ireland final month? Will it mean asking county boards to alter the structure of their championships to knockout or something similar to the two-strikes-and-you’re-out senior inter-county competition, as it is now? How could it not?

Moroney and Paul Kinsella, the national fixtures chairman, are two long-standing fixture planners. Both aired their concerns about the workability of the forthcoming motion. Moroney has seen first-hand how dual clubs have become victims of their own success at provincial level. Kinsella knows how constricted boards are by 14-day and seven-day rules. To further his point, he advises taking out a calendar and crossing off the weekends that are unavailable for club fixtures because of inter-county activity. What’s left isn’t much.

The situation is more acute for dual counties. From January 12 to September 27 (36 weeks), Tipperary’s senior hurlers were out on 18 weekends. Going through the qualifiers meant players were off-limits to their clubs for 15 out of 20 weekends from the middle of May to the end of September. Their minors had two games, the U21s one.

In the same period, the senior footballers had 13 weekend fixtures, two of them overlapping with the senior hurlers. Their U21s had three fixtures, the minors two. That’s not taking into consideration two intermediate hurling clashes and one junior football clash.

Tipperary can make things easier for themselves. They have far too many senior clubs in both codes and their championship structure is overly intricate. But does that mean they should have to revert their format to a straight knockout as, it seems, most successful counties will be asked to do, to make the calendar season fit?

Kinsella made an important point earlier this month when he argued the backside of a club falls out when they exit the championship. “You can dress it up any way you like, but once you go out of the championship that’s the end of the interest. There may be league and other games left but you’re only going through the motions.”

Guaranteeing club players one championship game would only serve to disenchant them further. And all to ensure counties finish their schedules for the purposes of the provincial and All-Ireland series. All supposedly in the name of the club player. Wouldn’t that be the greatest irony?


GPA have earned their corn since coming inside the tent

If inter-county players’ reaction to Colm O’Rourke’s criticism of the GPA at the weekend proved one thing it’s that they are extremely well-mobilised.

When the former Meath star penned his stinging column about the official players body, he couldn’t have anticipated just how much it exercised the best footballers and hurlers across the land.

On Twitter, some attacked O’Rourke’s article. Others defended the GPA. Yesterday, Bernard Brogan posted: “To echo what other players have been saying @gaelicplayers has been a huge help to me setting up my own business and my personal development”

Undoubtedly, the response en masse was choreographed but it illustrated just how potent the GPA can be when they want to get their point across.

O’Rourke isn’t the only one who believes the GPA has been subsumed since they were officially recognised by Croke Park in 2011. Shane Curran told RTÉ Radio earlier this month: “The reasons it was set up are now being forgotten. I do think they need to resurrect their footprint.”

The group’s founding father, Donal O’Neill, warned they would become redundant if they didn’t receive a percentage of the GAA’s commercial income. Their €8 million five-year agreement concludes in 2015.

The GPA may not be as militant as it once was but they’ve earned their corn since coming inside the tent. Their fundraising skills in the US has been incredible and their folio of support systems for their members is impressive.

Extending their brief to club players is a question that needs answering but the truth is it’s the county players who are making the Association most of its bread. Keeping them happy makes for good business.

Mixed message from officialdom

One of the bugbears in the higher echelons of GAA officialdom is how in the media everyone in the organisation is lumped in together.

If it isn’t the GAA, then it’s Croke Park. Guilty by Association.

There have been decisions by disciplinary committees this year that the top brass would dearly love to disassociate themselves from.

Contrary to what Paul Grimley or others might think, the GAA president and director-general have little or no influence on the Central Competitions Control Committee or the Central Hearings Committee (CHC).

Yes, they had a say in who sits on them but that’s the long and short of it.

In light of how both Páraic Duffy and Liam O’Neill have been calling for more respect for referees, it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest they were slightly unhappy with the CHC’s handling of Brian Cody’s comments about Barry Kelly. The warning about his future conduct wasn’t so much a slap across the wrists as a gentle brush of them. That said, don’t be surprised if Kilkenny take umbrage with even that punishment.

The problem here isn’t Kilkenny. Everybody in Cody’s camp are reading from the same page. Can the same be said for the GAA’s disciplinary bodies, and those who appointed them?


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