Air of optimism that change is on the way for club players

Hope. Lots of hope. Páirc Uí Rinn was awash with it on Monday evening last.

Air of optimism that change is on the way for club players

There was a county championship to be launched and so managers and players from the 26 senior football clubs had gathered upstairs in the main pavilion. Also knocking about the place was the piece of silverware — the Andy Scannell Cup — they’re all hoping to take ownership of.

There was a good scattering too of local journalists, each seeking a private word with the main runners and riders. No one was giving too much away, though, as you’d expect. Castlehaven were bigging up the reigning champions over the road in Rosscarbery. The holders, to no surprise, quickly returned the compliment.

As for Ballincollig and Nemo Rangers, sure they were only too content to keep the spotlight on the boys from West Cork. The 2014 and 2015 champions respectively were almost trying to fly under the radar. Fat chance of that happening.

Once the dictaphones had been filled, the players were ushered down pitchside for the obligatory photo call. Local snapper Jim Coughlan lined them up one by one with Andy Scannell perched in the foreground. It’s as close as most will ever get to the county cup, but at this point in the season, with a ball yet to be kicked in earnest, every one of them rightly believes their team has a shot. And well they should.

First into the ring today are Newcestown and Douglas.

Should either, or both, make it all the way to the decider — traditionally played in mid-October — they’re looking at a six-and-a-half month campaign. And given the maximum number of championship matches they can play during that period is eight (potential replays excluded), that’s a fairly drawn out campaign.

Most other years, club managers and players tended to complain about the two and three-month gap between championship fixtures without ever expecting real reform to be brought about. The Club Players’ Association’s arrival, though, has lent itself to a heightened sense of optimism that change could be on the way.

Of 10 players we spoke to on Monday, all but one are registered members of the CPA.

“I hope it does make a difference,” said Ballincollig’s Paddy Kelly, the club now his sole focus after calling quits on his inter-county career earlier this year.

“The inter-county season needs to be condensed to give club players a more regular fixture list and to be able to play championship in the summer.”

The 2010 All-Ireland medal winner has his own ideas on how the structure of the Cork SFC could be improved so as to provide players with a watertight programme of games — Ballincollig’s opening bout last summer was followed by a 13-week break after which they played three games in the space of 15 days.

“I think we have too many clubs up at senior level in both codes. I think if you reduced the number of teams at senior and brought teams back down to grades below, you’d make all the grades more competitive. The fact there are far too many teams in senior at the moment makes structuring awkward. I’d prefer if there was some sort of round-robin where you could have a guaranteed fixtures schedule.”

Carbery Rangers’ county- winning captain James Fitzpatrick, Nemo’s Aidan O’Reilly, and Eoin Comyns of the Barrs all favour a Champions League-style format.

O’Reilly, similar to Kelly, feels the top table is overcrowded.

“There are too many teams. I don’t see the need for any more than 20 teams,” he remarked. “I hope the CPA does make an impact. There are a lot of young players not continuing onto adult level because the fixtures are a bit of a joke, to be honest.”

Avondhu forward Mikie Sheehan points to the recent CPA survey which found 72% of recipients craving an unchangeable fixture schedule, while 46% want more games during May, June, and July.

He too is hopeful.

“What they are doing is fantastic. They have a long road ahead of themselves. Recognition from Croke Park will be the first part of that road.

“The fixture schedule is an absolute nightmare. The county championship structure could have been upset had the Cork hurlers beaten Limerick last Sunday, one week before the club football championship was due to start. It is that sort of stuff that annoys players. Everyone is amateur, everyone has a life outside of sport. It would be great to be able to plan what you are doing for the summer.”

Eoin Cotter of Douglas was another thankful for the voice the so often voiceless have been given.

“Hopefully, in time, the CPA will make a difference because club players are relatively unserved. The CPA is good for the grassroots.

“We need predefined club windows to better facilitate the scheduling of games. This will make it easier for club players to facilitate the rest of their lives around their hurling and football.”

Doesn’t sound like they’re asking for too much. Hope springs eternal.

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