The new head of the GAA’s fixture analysis committee, Micheál Martin, is satisfied club players have certainty as to when they will play championship this year.
All county boards were obliged to submit their 2018 master fixtures plan by the end of February and such is the level of detail contained within them, Wexford native Martin believes club players are no longer in the dark regarding championship dates.
As revealed by the Irish Examiner last Friday, club footballers in 20 counties have no championship games to look forward to this month. The majority of county boards have opted not to utilise April to commence their championships, choosing to wait until late summer/early autumn.
The senior football championships in Derry, Donegal, and Kerry may not be throwing in until September, but at least club players in these counties know several months in advance when the first round of games is scheduled for.
Gone are the days when a full round of club championship games, with no prior notice, is fixed for the weekend after a county exits the All-Ireland championship.
“I think club players have certainty,” said Martin, “I give the example of Wexford where I was fixture analyst last year. We know there is championship this month (two rounds of football and one in hurling). There will be league in May, with the June bank holiday weekend left free. The provisional return for championship is July 23. Barring the Wexford hurlers getting to an All-Ireland semi or final, that plan won’t change. If it does, alternative dates are listed.
“From the master fixture programmes I have seen, there is that level of detail around the country. It is a process to get every county with that degree of accuracy. Where they see fit, provincial fixture analysts will recommend areas for improvement. There has been a lot of progress, certainly in the last 12 months.”
Martin oversees the fixtures analysis committee.
“Every county has, or is, looking at their internal structures. That is an important step. Doing it in conjunction with the clubs and holding player or club forums is also important. We are seeing more and more counties doing that. If that continues, you will see a huge improvement in the games programmes being organised for clubs.
“Last year, there was a minimum required standard for each county. Effectively, we are trying to agree on what are the requirements are in terms of a games programme for club players. In a predominantly single-code county, that may be something in the region of 14 games between league and championship. For a dual county, that may drop to 12. At the end of each year, then, we look to see if these standards were upheld.
“The first step is gathering hard evidence; what is being played and when is it being played. Our next national fixtures seminar is on May 12. A lot of that day will be devoted to analysing the activity in April. If some counties are comfortable with county players being available and they are playing league games, that’s OK, whereas others will definitely go ahead and play championship.”
Martin concluded: “The fixture analysis committee was established in 2017, having previously been titled fixture planning. That every county now has at least one trained fixture analyst, who is at local level analysing the programme, is a positive step. A lot of progress has been made, but there is still plenty to do.”
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