Decades of fixture-making have taught Paul Kinsella many things but one abiding lesson: the longer a club is in a championship the better it is for the club’s prosperity.
That might go without saying but the GAA’s national fixtures committee chairman senses a real danger to the integrity of several county championships on foot of the Football Review Committee’s proposal to finish all club championship activity in the calendar year.
Passed at Central Council last June, the recommendation will be framed in a motion to be voted on at Congress next year with a mind to coming fin operation in 2016. It can be taken for granted it will apply to hurling too.
Earlier this year, long before Tipperary and Wexford this week admitted they wouldn’t have their senior football championships finished in time for this year’s Munster and Leinster club competitions, he addressed his own county board and warned delegates they faced a serious decision because of the FRC proposal. He provided them with the scenario: retain their successful club championship group stage structure and risk no representation in the Leinster club hurling championship or change it so as to ensure Kilkenny have participants in the provincial competition.
Kilkenny’s senior hurling county final takes place on November 16. Tipperary’s senior football final is unlikely to be played until the end of next month, possibly the start of December. The FRC calls for provincial semi-finals to be concluded by early November.
It’s successful counties and those dual ones such as Cork, Tipperary, Galway, Dublin and Wexford that Kinsella fears for most by the forthcoming motion. Unless they make their championships straight knock-outs, he says they will find it almost impossible to have them concluded in time to fulfil their provincial dates.
But just how healthy is a straight knock-out format, he asks?
“What length of a competitive year should a player expect? I would contend that a player prefers to play league and tournament matches in preparation for the first round of the championship. ‘D day’ is the first round of the championship and if that’s in July or August then that doesn’t bother them.
“This only applies to the successful counties but if you are to plan your fixtures to be certain of finishing in time for the provincial championship you would have to bring your first round knock-out forward likely to May. The month of June is out because of a variety of inter-county team activity.
“Effectively, what you’re saying to the players is by the third Sunday in May or whatever 50% are out of business.
“You can dress it up any way you like but once you go out of the championship that’s the end of the interest.”
Kinsella wonders just how many of the FRC’s members have actually sat down and put together a fixture programme in their county.
“To complete the Leinster club football championship in time for the All-Ireland to be played in the calendar year you would have to start it in September,” he points out.
“That would put any county who reaches the All-Ireland semi-finals under a lot of pressure.”
He adds: “Theory is grand but practicality is totally different.”
Kinsella has scrutinised Tipperary’s fixtures and stresses they couldn’t have done anything more to help themselves. When Clare ran into difficulty last year, he audited their fixture programme and discovered but for one weekend they couldn’t have alleviated their logjam.
“I looked at Waterford’s fixtures last May. Everything was well laid out but when the two senior county teams went into the qualifiers the whole thing was thrown completely belly-up.
“They got it back on track but had their minor hurlers got to the final again this year they wouldn’t have been able to get a hang of it.”
If push does come to shove and the calendar year motion becomes a rule, Kinsella believes Kilkenny should remain true to their county championship and sacrifice participation in the Leinster club competition.
“I would have no difficulty in making that choice. Number one is our own championships and what’s best for the majority of our clubs.
“Do we keep all our clubs active until the end of August or do we put half of them out of business in May?”
Kinsella can’t see much wiggle room with the GAA season as it is. He is agreeable to the All-Ireland hurling and football finals being brought forward by at least one week but is loathe to reschedule the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups to pre-Christmas dates.
“I come from an era where you had to fight to get Gaelic games recognised and get a foothold at third level.
“To return to college in October and somehow have their competitions finished by Christmas is not fair to them.”
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