The GAA’s difficulty is also the GAA’s opportunity, or so believe the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) as they have put forward a proposal to dramatically slim down the inter-county season.
The mood music would suggest their timing couldn’t be better as club players, at least those in counties where Covid-19 isn’t impacting fixtures, are reaping the benefits of a definitive championship calendar. The abbreviated season, propelled by a worldwide crisis, has provided potential solutions.
The reformation of the GAA season has created the environment for meaningful change and the Club Players Association (CPA) are with the GPA on that one at least in principle. Tired of prolonged seasons and the lack of downtime, inter-county footballers and hurlers have demanded something be done.
By framing an inter-county season from the start of February to the end of July which would also incorporate a pre-season thus cutting its slice of their calendar by as much as 17 weeks, the GPA’s leadership have responded with a refreshing approach that also takes a grip of the CPA’s battleflag to fix the fixtures.
And to think the GPA were all about money. That perception, not always unfair, was perpetuated in December when GAA president John Horan revealed that the new official protocol negotiations between Croke Park and the GPA had broken down over finances. When the GPA seemed to conflate GAA director general Tom Ryan’s concern about the escalating cost of preparing inter-county teams as a criticism of them as “a problem child”, it too came across poorly.
Dare it be said but this plan, put to GPA members on Friday before it is commended to the GAA fixtures review group on August 19, might actually save money. Of course, that remains to be seen. After all, the GPA seek to reclaim April for inter-county activity and a lot of cash can be spent in and around that condensed but intense 23 weeks of an inter-county season.
However, the training to game ratio would become more balanced meaning happier players and quite possibly happier treasurers. If the €15,000 a week it cost to run the Roscommon footballers three years ago is the median or average and bearing in mind their 2017 season ran from November 2016 to early August 2017, there will be costs cut.
Had this year gone as expected, this would have been All-Ireland senior football semi-finals weekend. After beginning with teams returning to training early last November, the inter-county season would have concluded on August 30. Before the outbreak, the national fixtures review group, on which the GPA are represented, had two proposals on the table to make available three extra club-only weeks bringing the total to 15. The GPA schedule would provide considerably more irrespective of taking back April.
Clubs are the side benefactors. In correspondence with members, GPA chief executive Paul Flynn wrote of the need to make the season more amateur at least in length: “One of the major pieces of feedback that you have given is that the current situation where the inter-county season is almost year-round is not sustainable. It is seen as the ‘root cause’ of many of the issues that impact you.
“The usual inter-county season runs for up to 40 weeks. However, the current season has been reformatted to fit club and county into 26 weeks. It is our firmly held view that this shows we should be capable of completing the inter-county season in the much-reduced timeframe.”
Flynn highlights what he considers several advantages of the proposal such as closed season periods and definitive windows for club from August onwards and third level Gaelic Games activity. He also suggests it’s an opportunity to structure a new League/Championship All-Ireland competition and that whatever formats are put forward are done so with the timeframe in mind “with a blank canvas approach being taken”.
Such an unfettered period for the inter-county game will be viewed with some scepticism. For one, it could spell the end of inter-county players lining out for their clubs in league matches, which you would assume would take place in parallel with the inter-county block. Inter-county would also retain the lion’s share of summer. However, what follows from August is an uninterrupted period for club action of approximately 18 weeks to the end of November.
It’s not perfect but as gestures go, as the GPA recognise that the inter-county scene’s foothold in the GAA season is too much, this plan is considerable.