Player representatives from the four senior clubs in provincial final action this weekend have expressed their discontent with the fixtures calendar.
Shortly after it broke early yesterday morning that the Club Players Association’s decision were pulling out of the GAA fixtures taskforce, Shane O’Sullivan (Ballygunner), Brendan Maher (Borris-Ileigh), Kieran Fitzgerald (Corofin), and Niall Daly (Pádraig PearsesS) attended an AIB-sponsored launch for the senior Munster hurling and Connacht football finals this Sunday.
All but Daly are signed up to the CPA, although Daly criticised how club fixtures have been put together.
Tipperary All-Ireland winner and All-Star Maher expressed alarm at the body’s withdrawal from the committee. “I’ve no idea what’s going on with those negotiations but when something as big as that is happening you would start thinking, ‘This must not be progressing the way that they see as progress.’
“It’s a huge worry and I suppose time will tell what’s going to happen. I don’t know what the solution is but something has to happen and changes have to be made. We need to start thinking together rather than fighting each other.
“The (Borris-Ileigh) lads would be constantly talking about... we have matches in April and then you literally don’t know when you’re going to play again. That’s an awful way to be in. You end up losing guys, they go off travelling and it’s not good for the club and it’s bad for morale around the place with small numbers training. There are all these challenges that are going on behind the scenes that nobody but the club sees.”
Before winning the All-Ireland final in August, Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy admitted a key reason for their excellent Munster round-robin form was cutting the number of club championship games in the designated club month of April.
Maher doesn’t believe cordoning off April for clubs has worked. “It’s probably too short a timeframe. It really needs structure and clarity. That’s what everyone needs to be fair to club players and county players who are trying to do both.
“It may be a case of trial and error for a couple of years, try one and iron it out. That’s the only way you can make a change. You can’t expect to get the perfect change straightaway. The round robin in Munster was a good change although there were things to iron out, like (getting rid of) the three-in-a-row games. That’s the way it has to happen.”
Ballygunner man and former Waterford hurler O’Sullivan said club players simply want a calendar they can plan their lives around. “I would say some club players have lost motivation around it. Not our club but we’re winning, you see, so it’s easier for us. But for the club player who’s training away and there isn’t a proper match for two or three months and he’s a family and the partner or wife is asking him, ‘Why are you training on a Friday night? Sure, you don’t have a match. When is your match?’ And he says, ‘I don’t know.’”
O’Sullivan continued: “Club players want a dedicated fixture list where they know when they’re playing their matches. I think that is the basic component of it. If the CPA have pulled out, that would indicate they’re not happy and like with any negotiation or conflict when one side steps away from the table, the other side is either putting forward an unreasonable solution or no solution.”
Similar to O’Sullivan, Daly wants a fixtures calendar that is set in stone. “My own opinion would be that the dates should be set and stick with them. What was going on a few years ago where they’d (Roscommon County Board) set a date and a team would get knocked out earlier than anticipated and then you may have had a holiday booked. That’s not right, like, so set the dates and go with them dates but set them in a way that is realistic to your county’s ambitions is probably the way I’d be looking at it anyway.”
Corofin veteran Fitzgerald can only see a split season working for both sets of players. “Short answer, there has to be some separation with inter-county, whether it’s January to July or July onwards for the club. I think it has to be separated, to be honest with you, however, they do it. I think there has to be a club season and an inter-county season. I think that’s the best way to do it.
“I don’t think it (current calendar) is working for a lot of club teams. Height of the summer and you are twiddling your thumbs. Even if you have from July, August and September are good months, you could play in October even. Right now, I don’t think it’s working.”