The Club Players Association (CPA) has claimed the GAA’s hierarchy have shown “no appetite” to make meaningful changes to the master fixtures calendar for the benefit of club footballers and hurlers.
At a press conference on the Irish Sports Campus yesterday, the body’s chairman Micheál Briody said recent meetings with GAA officials have effectively amounted to “tokenism” and their discussions with them are now at a “standstill”.
In a briefing lasting over 90 minutes, CPA executive committee members outlined their recommendations and plans to improve the GAA calendar.
It was agreed at the GAA’s recent management committee and at Central Council that motions to benefit club fixtures would be heard at September’s Special Congress.
Yesterday, the CPA called for the month of April to be club-only, the All-Ireland championships to be concluded by the end of December to satisfy a calendar year, and December be a month free of all club and county action.
However, speaking to the Irish Examiner last night the GAA’s director of games administration and player welfare Feargal McGill said that measures taken by the association will ensure 24 club-only weekends next year in contrast to 15 in 2016.
The GAA define club-only weekends as those where 28 or more counties are not involved in inter-county action.
Last month, the CPA provided GAA director general Páraic Duffy, president Aogán Farrell, and McGill with the documents.
However, Briody said the talks left them disenchanted. “We have had quite a few meetings. We put all our principles, that we based this on, on a black page. Various different people have gone and presented the plans. Derek [Kavanagh, football fixtures co-ordinator] and Liam [Griffin, hurling equivalent] probably about six weeks ago. We realised then that they don’t have an appetite for taking our change and it’s why we don’t want this to be the CPA plan.
“What we’re putting out there is a national plan and we’re actually proving that it can be done. What we want them to do is ‘you show us what you’re going to do’. There is no plan in place for what inter-county football, hurling, and club fixtures will look like in 2020. It’s this constant incremental change that has left us in the mess we’re in at the moment.
“We’re basically putting the challenge to them [that] ‘fine, okay, if you want to go and ignore what we’re showing you, but please respect all the members of the GAA and show us the strategic plan you’re working to, because we believe they don’t have one.”
McGill, though, rejected the suggestion.
“To say that the GAA haven’t given consideration to club fixtures, I’m not sure where that is coming from. Páraic Duffy wrote a discussion paper that led to significant changes being made at Congress, which haven’t kicked in yet.
“They will in 2018, which will be a seminal year for us in terms of club fixtures.”
McGill mentioned the changes to the minor grade to U17, U21 football becoming U20 at inter-county championship level, a competition which will run parallel, but not clash, with the senior equivalent, the abolishment of Allianz Football League Division 1 semi-finals and the All-Ireland finals being brought forward into August as some of the changes that will provide more space for clubs.
He also cited the appointment of fixture analysts in each county to ensure the changes for the benefit of clubs are being felt.
McGill presented a new draft master fixtures plan to Central Council last month. “In 2018, we will have 24 club-only weekends. The corresponding number in 2016 was 15. That 24 figure will be the same regardless of whether we have round-robin provincial hurling championships. In fact, it might make it slightly easier to implement. All in all, it’s the culmination of four or six years of work.”
According to McGill, approximately six motions will be forwarded to Special Congress to give county boards the power to “protect those windows for club fixtures”.
Briody acknowledged the GAA are working to concentrate the inter-county season and commended the reduction of replays but insisted the CPA’s proposed schedule is a lot more sophisticated.
A motion put forward by Wexford for the GAA to recognise the CPA at Congress earlier this year was withdrawn pending exploratory talks with the group. “I don’t think we would put it [motion] forward again,” Briody admitted.
“We look at ourselves like a lobby group and we’ll fight for the club player. If we had got recognition, would we have got anything more done? I don’t think so. Nickey Brennan intervened at Congress and the motion was withdrawn. It was directed to the top table to go and talk to the CPA and find out more about them. They have done that, we have met with them, but I think it was more tokenism than any genuine interest in what we had to show.”
The CPA are now committed to informing GAA members about their plans. “What we want to do now is highlight to everyone around the country how this can be done and then it’s up to the GAA and Central Council to say: ‘This makes a lot more sense or parts of it do’ or produce a better plan,” stated Briody, a St Brigid’s player in Meath and CEO of Silver Hill Farm.
Regarding the Central Competition Control Committee’s plans to transform the All-Ireland senior hurling provincial championships from knock-out to round-robin series, Briody fears they will cause difficulties for clubs, contrary to McGill’s argument.
“We don’t have a particular view on the proposal, only that they’re going to suffocate the club scene further and further.”
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