Although April has been earmarked for club GAA fixtures all over the country, Ed Sheeran is causing some planning headaches on Leeside with his May concerts in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
“We’re losing the May bank holiday weekend this year because of Ed Sheeran, it’s just taking up a lot of resources so we’re not having games that weekend,” Cork GAA senior administrator Diarmuid O’Donovan said yesterday.
“In some ways, though, that’s concentrating minds, it makes sure we make the best out of April.”
The GAA’s decision to devote April to club activity isn’t “a huge change” for Cork, however.
“It’s hard to know until we go through it, but we always ran championship games in April and May, so it wasn’t a huge change for us,” says O’Donovan. “Obviously for some counties that’d be different and it’d be more challenging.
“We were in Roscommon last weekend and they’re playing two rounds of championship, they have a round-robin system. Kerry have three rounds of championship down for decision where they’d usually have a maximum of two, but those are counties which would only have football to contend with really in planning fixtures.”
Cork has more clubs than any other county, and that’s before factoring in divisional sides and third-level colleges.
“What helped was starting the divisional and colleges competition a bit earlier. It suited some divisions and it didn’t suit others, and the weather made it challenging in recent weekends, but we’re nearly there with it now.
“The big problem for us is that our top six championships — senior, premier intermediate and intermediate in hurling and football — have 68 games fixed between now and May 12. We had to make sure all the teams with Cork players, and dual clubs, are playing in the month of April.
“We could cut some slack for clubs which weren’t in that situation, but it was only right to give dual clubs time to prepare properly for both, to give them two or three weeks between the first round of the football and the hurling, and that’s difficult.
“Even though it’s only happened twice in the last four years that we’ve had a draw in the first round, we’re also trying to work in alternative dates if there are replays and postponements to ensure we’re finished our first rounds, effectively, by the end of April, even if a couple of games run into May.
“If we had to factor in divisional teams playing in the month of April it would have been impossible, really. The fact they play earlier makes it all achievable.”
Inter-county progress is another consideration, he adds.
“There’s a body of opinion out there that believes it’d be better to delay the championships until August, but the reality is that if you got to the All-Ireland semi-finals and finals then there’d be complete chaos.
“Personally, from my time with the minor board, I think playing a round in April encouraged — or forced — clubs to organise themselves early in the year. Human nature would lead clubs to defer preparations until later in the summer if the games aren’t played in August, and I don’t think that’d be good.
“The next challenge for us is to fix the league programme to both make it meaningful and to get it finished before round two or round three championship games.”
Other issues come into the mix to complicate April games, like college exams.
“We prepared the fixtures with an eye to possibly being involved in the national league finals, which you have to factor in.
“There was no point in telling all the clubs we’d be playing on April 7 if there was a chance games could go off because of the county team — that would just disrupt everybody’s plans.
“We decided the busiest weekend in football would be the April 15th weekend, while in hurling it would be the last weekend of April, the 27th.
“The other factors are that there are certain weekends when clubs, for whatever reason, just don’t want to play, so we have to factor that in as well.
“Also, in general most clubs should get a championship game over before third-level exams, which is something else that has to be factored into your planning. Those clubs would then have 12 to 15 weeks to refocus and plan again, but nobody knows how that will work. In the format we had, up to two years ago, a lot of clubs which won their first-round game had 12 weeks to their next game, so from that perspective it’s not the biggest change in the world.”
O’Donovan warns that the calendar may be tricky in 2019: “Something that’ll have to be considered if this applies as well next year, though, is when Easter falls in the middle of April. That could complicate things.”
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