A scalpel will not be taken to the Cork senior hurling or football championships in response to the GAA’s 2018 master fixtures calendar.
Prior to Special Congress, Cork officials expressed concern that the introduction of a round-robin format at provincial hurling level, added to football’s Super 8s later in the summer, would force a significant altering of club championship structures to ensure local competitions were run off in time for the Munster Club Championship.
Cork chairman Ger Lane has revealed “minor tweaks” may be recommended, but doesn’t envisage “wholesale changes” being put before clubs at the November meeting of the county board or convention on December 10.
There are currently 26 teams in both the Cork SHC and SFC. Those who lose their first-round match are afforded a second chance, as are teams who win their opening fixture but then fall at the round 2A hurdle.
Both Nemo Rangers (one replay) and Imokilly (two replays) played seven games en-route to winning the county football and hurling titles last month.
“I don’t think we should be involved in making massive changes and we are not prepared to make wholesale changes for the sake of reacting to what is now before us at inter-county level,” said Lane. “We should go on a one-year basis and see how things work for 2018. If our club structures are workable within the new inter-county model, then we move on.
“A lot will depend on the success of our inter-county teams. If we were to get to an All-Ireland final in either code, it is going to have a major impact on our championships. If our teams aren’t as successful as we would have hoped, there may be gaps in July and August to play games.
“The problem in Cork is that we have a lot of dual clubs and are they going to be playing week after week as soon as Cork are finished up in either code. That is the kernel of the problem that the people in headquarters haven’t always taken into account.”
With just two games scheduled for next April — the Division 1 and 2 Allianz football league finals — this month has been cordoned off for club activity.
GAA director general Páraic Duffy said on Tuesday he doesn’t expect counties to fix many club championship games in April, as they will “have plenty of time in July, August and September”.
Lane, in contrast to Duffy, insists Cork club players can expect a busy programme of games in April.
Indeed, with the Munster SHC not commencing until May 20, the Cork executive is considering running off club games on the weekend of May 5 and 6 as they would fall outside the 13-day window.
A number of club championship games were played a fortnight before Cork’s hurlers and football began their provincial campaigns this summer.
“Anyone trying to grapple with our fixture programme would realise every weekend has to be taken avail of. We haven’t finalised our own programme for 2018, but we will definitely have to be playing matches in April in order to finish on time,” said Lane.
“[The new hurling format] might not be what we wanted, but it is there now and we have to be big enough to work with it. Maybe, it will work out better than everyone has envisaged, from a Cork point of view.”
Meanwhile, Club Players Association (CPA) chairman Micheál Briody has criticised Duffy for not taking a sterner line in demanding county players be left to their clubs during the month of April.
At the unveiling of the 2018 fixtures masterplan, Duffy said: “In April, I think you’re going to have a lot of [club] league games in counties, giving a regular series of games. The real issue is, will managers let county players play? And that’s something that every county has to work out for themselves.”
The GAA’s director general should have shown greater leadership here, according to the CPA chief.
“That is a dealbreaker for the CPA and should be a mandatory condition that club players have to be released during the month of April,” said Briody. “This would also help county boards make savings with regard to the expenses of their county team.”
Despite the number of club-only weekends rising from 15 to 24, Briody doesn’t go along with the assertion club players have got a fairer deal.
“There is still no certainty for the club player. The ideal fixtures plan is one where all players can look at the master plan on January 1 and see clearly what weekends they are playing. Club players still don’t have that.”
He added: “We will seek to table a number of motions at the various county conventions with a view to bringing about change for the betterment of the club player.”
From next year, the London SFC winners will play the Connacht Club SFC instead of coming into the All-Ireland quarter-final stages.
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