County boards will shoulder all the blame should club championships not be completed on schedule this year.
That was the impassioned assertion of GAA director general Páraic Duffy in Croke Park yesterday as he delivered his 11th and final annual report.
By clearing April from all competitive inter-county games bar the Allianz Football League Division 1 and 2 finals on the first day of the month, Duffy believes there is enough room made for clubs so that the calendar year season can be achieved in the coming years. Duffy has heard inter-county managers claiming it is unrealistic to free up players to their clubs, but he hit back: “I don’t care what people or managers may say, it’s up to counties to make sure that they get the season off to a good start, beginning in April and putting on rounds of club games. There is no reason why any county can’t play four rounds of games [in April]. There are five Sundays.
“Why should there be a problem? It’s a problem if you think the clubs have no rights. Clubs have equal rights with the counties. Why should the county manager decide ‘no, the players won’t play with the clubs’? There is no reason in the world why club games can’t go ahead in April.”
Duffy even suggested the compromise that players train with their county panels during the week in April, but line out with their clubs at the weekend.
He also pointed out that the majority of counties will be in a position to return to club games involving inter-county players by the middle to end of July.
“By July 8, there will only be eight football teams left in the All-Ireland championship. Twenty-four counties have the rest of the year in football all to themselves, so any county that can’t produce a decent calendar themselves this year has only themselves to blame, providing they don’t let managers dictate to them.
“I think we can do a really good fixtures programme this year. Any county that doesn’t, then it’s their own fault. It’s not the fault of the national fixtures calendar. By July 29, there will be two teams left in the hurling.”
Bringing the All-Ireland finals forward and condensing the All-Ireland senior championships provide the conditions to introduce a calendar year, which Duffy has long advocated. If all goes well this year, he can see it being the next major proposal from GAA HQ.
“It’s a discussion that needs to take place, but I accept it probably won’t take place until the end of this year or maybe even the end of next year. I believe that if we staged the club finals at Croke Park in December under lights, it would be terrific, but it’s a debate that probably can’t take place until we try the current system for one or two years and then we’re in a position to decide.”
A working group led by former GAA president Liam O’Neill has endorsed the idea, citing several reasons for doing so, including counties being able to field their best teams in the Allianz Leagues and providing a more compact and logical schedule of matches. The committee also felt it would be easier to build up and maintain public interest in club championships, because of a more compact fixtures schedule and they would not be competing for people’s attention at the same time as the Allianz Leagues.
Dual counties, who encounter more challenges in arranging games, remain the biggest opponents of the idea.
Meanwhile, Duffy strongly came to the defence of Dublin in his report, following their third consecutive All-Ireland SFC win last September. He dismissed the calls to divide the county in a bid to address their superiority, underlining the difficulties they had in claiming just one All-Ireland between 1983 and 2011 and how a split would damage the GAA identity in the capital.
He wrote: “One is led to wonder if the ‘divide Dublin’ proponents have given any thought to what the GAA would lose if Dublin were to be split. Have they given any thought to what Dubliners would lose? And is the sight of Dublin supporters on Hill 16 not one of the great spectacles in Irish sport? And are we not all looking forward to seeing Dublin supporters in their thousands heading out of the city to follow their team, which the championship format from 2018 will allow?
“So, neither on competitiveness grounds, nor on account of the unfairness of depriving Dubliners of the pleasure of expressing their local and historical identity through the GAA (as every other GAA supporter is allowed to do), should we countenance the splitting up of Dublin.”
Speaking afterwards, Duffy also rejected the funding argument that Dublin receive too much. “I accept that Dublin have a greater access to funding than anyone else, but that’s the way that it is. That’s the way that we are. What’s the alternative? Have 32 counties with equal size of population? We can’t do that. We are what we are. The GAA is about county, it’s about club, it’s about where you’re from and you know Dublin have the same rights to that kind of identity as Monaghan or Leitrim or Longford or anybody else. Good luck to them, because they’ve greater resources but the point I’m making is that greater resources doesn’t guarantee success.”
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