And so 82 National League fixtures shoehorned for five March weekends will be ramrodded into four.
Providing floodwater and/or further bad weather doesn’t cause more difficulties this weekend, all the football and hurling deciders bar the Division 4 football final will take place on the same weekend at the end of the month.
Of course it was scheduled that both top flight finals would have had a weekend for themselves but beggars can’t be choosers and right now the GAA’s fixture-makers find themselves just wanting this to all be over so that the organisation can at least show they tried to stick to their pledge of making April all about the club.
If ever there was an example of running to stand still this is it.
However, while that window in which there now will be competitive inter-county activity had been held up as the GAA’s commitment to the club player, it seems more like window-dressing when a number of counties have already chosen to delay their championship starts until August and September.
There are also those counties who have laid out an elaborate programme of club championship games but they come with costs too like a competition divided between as much as four months.
Counties will continue to play in April because there is little stopping them. A rule introduced last year states inter-county challenge matches after the conclusion of the National Leagues can take place on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.
The only exceptions are if the game is opening a grounds or club matches in those two counties took place on the preceding Monday to Saturday or is to be played on the Sunday, that is the day after a Saturday challenge game. Punishment for an unauthorised challenge game is €250. If caught, expect county boards to pony up that nominal fee willingly.
As GAA president John Horan points out, the upholding of the amateur status is on clubs and counties, not Croke Park, ensuring the club period in April is used wisely is up to those units but can they be trusted to do so?
Inter-county managers are often considered as being too possessive, and more often than not that’s the correct assertion, but if there’s ever a year to be greedy it’s this one.
By June 10, eight football teams will have exited the Championship, their campaigns having begun less than a month before. Perhaps that might accelerate the need for a tiered format but it’s as quick a goodbye as when the All-Ireland SFC was knock-out.
The All-Ireland SHC is no different and as many as four teams might not be seen past the provincial stages. By June 9, one or two Leinster hurling team will be stood down for the year as will be replicated in Munster a week later, these counties’ competitions having commenced four weeks or less previously.
At least Limerick will have at the very minimum four outings this year but it’s such a tight turnaround from game to game that the provincial stage is really all about survival.
Those provincial championship leagues are the real leagues now, the current one upset by the different agendas at play from national to county to management to player level. In Division 1A, there is a concerted effort in Clare to treat it like it’s 2017 all over again while Tipperary and Waterford have been trying to cultivate panels with May and June in mind.
To a lesser extent, Cork have been looking ahead, although a lot of the reasoning behind their run of three defeats can be simply put down to bad form. Wexford simply want to stay up while Kilkenny, regardless of what lies ahead, had no choice but to experiment.
In Division 1B, Galway have been as quiet as a mouse as have Limerick although what John Kiely has done without his Na Piarsaigh players and the UL players for their previous match against Antrim must be commended.
It’s been said another year in the second tier won’t hurt Galway but try telling that to the county board.
Limerick know the worth of the league. Two years ago, county secretary Mike O’Riordan claimed they were losing out on an average of €100,000 per annum because their hurlers were in Division 1B. In 2017, Tipperary made almost €200,000 from total competition distribution compared to Limerick’s €87,151.
Counties’ decision to keep the quarter-finals, which has contributed to the fixtures headache, is fundamentally a financial one.
It’s generally agreed that it’s more in a county board’s financial interests for their team to perform well in the league than the Championship and this year there’s the carrot of a free trip to Australia for the winners.
Yet, in the face of those elements, managers are compelled to experiment and fixture-makers just want it over. With so many parties are on different wavelengths, it’s no wonder the league feels disjointed.
Croke Park to the rescue with a weekend jamboree?
Confirmation yesterday that the Dublin-Kerry Division 1 game will take place this Sunday makes sense for a variety of reasons and it may just provide a solution if the GAA’s fixtures headache becomes a full-on migraine this weekend.
In the event that other games can’t be played at county venues in Leinster (namely the Kildare-Mayo match in Newbridge and the Meath-Cork clash in Navan) and possibly into Ulster, it might be an idea to organise them as curtain-raisers in GAA HQ providing an agreement can be made with the Dublin County Board, who are hosts.
In 2013, Kildare and Donegal’s Division 1 game was on the undercard to the Dublin-Cork match after the Lilywhites struck an agreement with their neighbours.
As things stood, there was little wiggle room prior to last weekend’s postponements, which was forecasted long before the first snowflake, and for that the GAA have to ship some criticism. But the blame game must also be delayed because if any of the 16 football fixtures or six Division 1A and 1B hurling games can’t be played there will be trouble.
Either the April 1 deadline will have to be broken again or teams will be asked to play midweek or twice in two or three days.
Contingency means a lot of things but right now it simply must mean getting games played. Croke Park may just be called upon to host a jamboree.
Staunton’s success also a siren
It’s evident in some of the comments from Down Under about Cora Staunton that the AFL Women’s is only cottoning on to the brilliance of the Mayo wonder.
Former AFL player Paul Hasleby’s claim that her exploits thus far will convince more recruiters “to go back to Ireland to try and find some more players like Staunton” is understandable, though it ignores a couple of facts.
Firstly, scouts have already been working in Ireland on the best the Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA) has to offer, with the likes of Staunton’s Mayo colleague Sarah Rowe confirming that she is weighing up the prospect of playing Australian Rules next season.
Then there is the undeniable fact that the Carnacon woman is a one-off.
At 36, her durability is once again exhibiting itself in Australia and it would hardly be surprising if the Greater Western Sydney Giants have already approached her about extending her contract.
Hasleby’s “player of the future” remark, whether or not it was slightly ignorant, is quite the compliment.
However, as the women’s league expands in the coming years to the point where those Irish that follow Staunton won’t be able to combine it with their own game, Staunton’s success may be considered an early warning about a potential LGFA talent drain.
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