Cork GAA CEO Kevin O’Donovan is opposed to a split season and believes the staging of this year’s club championships at the height of summer will strengthen the appetite for the club and inter- county seasons to run concurrently at summertime in the years ahead.
The GAA’s 2020 master fixture schedule was turned on its head during lockdown, with the club season afforded ownership of the summer months and on into September and early October, at which point a truncated inter-county season will crank into action.
O’Donovan knows full well that if the reshaped 2020 season proves a success, then the split season model will be back on the table as an alternative approach going forward. It is, however, not for him.
The Cork County Board CEO was a member of the GAA’s fixture calendar review task force and while the final report of the 11-person group did not favour club games being interspersed throughout the inter-county championships, O’Donovan says the ‘multiple windows model’ is workable and should be pursued.
It is his belief that the pride of place afforded to the club season this summer will see patrons and players struggle to accept the relegation of club championship fixtures back to the autumn months in the years ahead.
“What the next month will show is how much we need club games being played with the sun beating down on the players’ backs, and parents and their children going to club games at the peak of summer. There is nothing wrong with having an inter-county season running parallel and concurrent to that if the commitment is there,” insisted O’Donovan.
“You are going to need governance for concurrent seasons, but we, as an association, always propagate that we are about clubs, communities, and players. We should be loyal to those values.
O’Donovan is adamant it does not have to be a case of either-or during the summer months.
A successful marriage of club and inter-county can be brought to bear.
“There is a move towards the silos, where you’d have a club season and a county season. If you are involved in fixtures, you’ll see how restrictive that is for both groups.
“The best model is to leave both taps run into the bath and from that, you’ll get the right temperature. Turning on the cold tap, then turning it off, and turning on the hot tap, I’m sorry, no. I think the concurrent model is the greatest one, but I do accept there is a lot of engineering to be done on it.”
He stressed that to loosen the inter-county stranglehold on summer would not diminish the “jewel” in the GAA’s crown.
“It is not either-or. A little bit selfish, probably very naive, but I’d like to have both. If it was governed nationally, I don’t see why players can’t play with the county for a period and with the club for a period.
“The concurrent model is the one we had in the past. Now it is seen as naive, old-fashioned. But when people see club games in the height of summer, I think they’ll pine for the day when we had those games in the past.
“That is not to downgrade the inter-county season. Playing the All-Ireland senior finals early in the year to get them out of the way so we can get back to the clubs is counter-productive.
“I would have All-Ireland finals in their traditional spot. I would have a concurrent season and then incredibly strong governance and a really professional inter-county set-up who can deal with that model, whereby the player plays with his club and plays with his county, and he has a good programme of games. If we can’t provide that, we are failing our players.”
He added: “We spent a lot of time looking at it on the fixtures review committee, but, to be fair, you just run out of weekends for some dual instances, so it didn’t come through as strongly in the report given the time I and a few had put into it.”
The Cork county championships get underway this weekend, with hurling and football finals across all grades pencilled in for the weekend of October 3/4.
Cork is only one of two counties, along with Meath, who will play county finals in both codes in October.
O’Donovan said Cork’s decision to maximise 12 of the 13 available weekends for competitive club action — the club window closes on October 11 — reflects the board’s determination to treat fairly the club player.
“We didn’t think it was dramatic to use the full window provided. There is a lot of rhetoric about the club game. If you want to see people’s respect for the club game, look at the fixture programme. That will tell you what people think of clubs. It is not about speeches. It is not about patronising players. It is about providing them with a games programme. The proof is in the pudding.”