Earlier this week, Louth forward Derek Byrne echoed the sentiments of manager Colin Kelly when he bemoaned the short turnaround, criticising the GAA and GPA, but Ó Fearghail claims their own executive was responsible for the dilemma.
Louth became the third Leinster county in as many years to suffer a short championship turnaround.
However, Ó Fearghail said: “I sympathise with a player that has to play within six days, absolutely. That’s why we have the A and the B [qualifier draws] and all the structures that have been put in place. At national level, we had our fixtures plan laid out, we sent it back to the provinces, the provinces looked at that, and 95% of the time then they comply within that to touch all the bases, but in some places it doesn’t work out that way.
“Louth is a case in point. There was a suite of options presented to Louth from the Leinster Council. They chose the dates that they chose for reasons of club activity and that’s the choice they make. If you make a choice, you can’t very well come back later and attack it.”
Ó Fearghail also said Laois were responsible for their qualifier against Armagh having to be refixed for this Saturday. Laois used seven substitutes, which was not picked up by the fourth official.
“County officials need to know — we let enough of them in, maybe too many on the sideline — and if there are guys going in there and they are officials to do a job, that’s fine, but they should do their job and in the case of the substitutions the onus is very clearly on the county to know how many subs they have brought on.
“They should know that, and they made a mistake and, if they made a mistake, it has to be rectified, so I think the system worked well for that.”
Regarding the need to replay the Christy Ring Cup final, Ó Fearghail said the ref’s error had to be rectified.
“I think it’s how you deal with a mistake that’s more important in life and there was a mistake made by the referee. He admitted that. It is up to officialdom to get involved and see how do you do that? Do you ignore it? I think we addressed it as fairly as we could. The game did end in a draw. The game was replayed and Meath won back-to-back Christy Ring Cups in the same year, so...”
Ó Fearghail hopes the motion to ban replays from all games bar provincial and All-Ireland finals will be voted on again at Congress in 2017, after falling less than 11% short of the required two-thirds majority this year.
That the losers of this Saturday’s Ulster semi-final replay between Cavan and Tyrone will have just six days to prepare for a second-round qualifier raises the problem caused by replays again.
The Ulster Council chose to postpone the replay by two weeks, something Ó Fearghail is at a loss to explain.
“The replay was fixed for two weeks afterwards and I don’t know why. I just don’t know why. I’m not happy with those things happening, because we set national fixtures, then they go to the provinces and the provinces should look at the national fixtures and slot everything in.”
He is alarmed at the disparity that has developed in the Leinster senior football championship.
“I think Connacht has widened and opened up. I think Ulster continues to be competitive, but there is an issue within Leinster. I believe there is. I think that it’s not that Dublin are a fantastic team, which of course they are, but there are a lot of Leinster counties that, in the past, we’d have expected to be quite close to them, and that isn’t happening. I’d have to acknowledge that and I see it as I travel around the country.
“There are two things happening on the ground in clubs in Ireland: They’re losing people or they’re gaining too many. We’re losing people out of the midlands or the Wild Atlantic Way and they’re all going into Ireland’s Ancient East and Ireland’s Ancient East isn’t growing in Meath or in Kildare or in Wicklow to the extent that the numbers would warrant and that is a definite issue.”
Meanwhile, Ó Fearghail has endorsed in principle Government grants for inter-county Gaelic players, but stopped short of backing the amount of money, believed to be as much as €7m per annum, they are seeking, as they attempt to renegotiate a better deal with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
“The amount of good things that the GAA players are doing... I acknowledge that, for many causes right across the country, there are other sportsmen and women who do get Government assistance for doing similar work, so why not the GAA? So in a general sense, yes, of course, I would support anything that they would do in terms of the general principle involved there, but I would be more focused on our own discussions with them, which are progressing very well,” said Ó Fearghail.
He said a new official recognition document with the GPA should be issued at the next Central Council meeting by the end of the summer.