Tipperary chairman John Devane believes starting the provincial championships at the beginning of June and restoring the All-Ireland hurling final to its original September slot would improve the plight of the club and inter-county player.
As Tipperary rush through the concluding stages of their hurling and football championships in a bid to meet Munster club deadlines, Devane is cognisant of the need to improve the GAA calendar.
The GAA’s recently established Fixtures Calendar Review Task Force, who have been meeting throughout the summer, will publish their recommendations before the end of the year, with a vote on them at Congress 2020.
Weighing in on how best to strike a balance between club and inter-county activity, the Tipperary county board chairman has proposed pushing back the start date of the provincial championships to June. Such a move would provide a six-week window across April and early May for a substantial number of club championship games to be played. He is adamant the club month of April, in its current incarnation, is not fit for purpose.
The Tipperary hurlers suffered from a hectic April of club activity in 2018 — certain dual clubs played up to five games — but a dimmer approach towards the month was taken by the board this year, with just one round of fixtures in either code arranged. Liam Sheedy admitted only last month that Tipperary’s championship preparations were greatly helped by this thinning of club action in late spring.
Devane acknowledged it is unfair for club players to be standing idle for large sections of the year and then enforce on them a jam-packed schedule of games through September and October.
He is “hopeful” Tipperary will have their senior hurling and football champions crowned in time for the Munster semi-finals on November 10 and 17 respectively, but the convoluted nature of the Tipperary SHC, along with the county’s run to the senior and U20 hurling finals, means clubs who progress through the rounds can expect to be lining out every weekend between here and the end of October, while midweek fixtures are also inevitable.
Loughmore-Castleiney, one of the more prominent dual clubs in the county, have played hurling and football championship over the past two weekends and have three more games
to look forward to in the space of a week beginning this Saturday. Should they stay winning, they’ll not have a weekend off any time soon.
The chairman accepted their own structure , no more than the inter-county calendar, needs tweaking.
“I believe the inter-county championship starts too soon,” said Devane. “April as a club month is not working because the inter-county championship is so close to it. If you are playing National League beyond mid-March and are then playing Munster championship on May 12, as we were this year, it doesn’t leave much room for club games in April while, at the same time, allowing the county team properly prepare for their championship opener.
“And then asking county players to line out with their club week after week directly following three busy months of championship with their county, it is in no way a perfect system.”
Devane continued: “I would go back to the All-Ireland [hurling final] on September 1 and start the inter-county scene on June 1. That gives you a six-week period in April and early May where you could make a real start on your club championship. It might tighten things up at the other end in that you are having the All-Ireland two weeks later than it is now, but, in my view, that would be the way to go.
“We have to bear in mind that clubs put in a lot of effort to get their team ready to take the field. To get ready for one game and then press stop for a couple of months is not feasible. We have to find a proper structure that suits both the county player and club player.”
Clubs in Tipperary have previously refused to separate the divisional hurling championships from the county championship proper, a link which is likely to delay this year’s championship in the coming weeks if a club, who failed to progress from the group stages, wins their respective division.
“A county championship that has six rounds is an ideal championship,” said Devane.
“Divisional championships are important but I think they should be standalone. If they do, I appreciate they might be left until the back end of the year. So we have to look at all that.
“We have a system that has too many rounds for the whole championship to be completed. It leaves our clubs in limbo. We don’t know when we can play our county hurling quarter-finals. We could yet need a preliminary quarter-final if a divisional champion has not finished in the top two of their county championship group.”
The chairman said it will be October before a new Tipperary senior football manager is appointed. Liam Kearns stepped down three months ago on June 9.