GAA Football

Cahair O'Kane's condensed Championship

The GAA plans to reshape the All-Ireland Football Championship, but leave the final in mid-September Picture by Philip Walsh

IT can be done. This shows that it can be done. But it also highlights how the GAA simply do not want to do it.

By ‘it’, I mean condensing the inter-county calendar. And not in the manner of bringing the All-Ireland finals forward by two weeks and paying lip service to the problem.

Everyone involved with the GAA at every level recognises the biggest problem we have in our games. In recent years, officials in Croke Park have constantly spoken of the need to solve the many issues faced by club players with regards to the unpredictability of their fixture list.

Croke Park says it wants to do this but, really, it doesn’t. It wants to marginally shorten the inter-county season under this illusion, so it can justifiably say to clubs: ‘here is August for most of you, go ahead with club championships’.

That makes inter-county players no less a stranger on the club fields of Ireland. If anything, it will almost certainly draw a line through their involvement in club league football.

Páraic Duffy hinted as much when he and Aogán Ó Fearghail unveiled their plans for a new round-robin process at the quarter-final stage of the All-Ireland series: “The time the clubs want their players back is when the county team is over and they can give their full attention to the clubs,” said the GAA’s director-general.

There’s no doubt Duffy wants to help the clubs more than most. The moderation of his proposals are his way of trying to appeal to both sides. The hard-line clubman would be happiest if there was no county football at all. The financial wing would be happiest if there was no club football.

Trying to pull the two ends to some sort of mutual meeting point is what Duffy has been trying to do. The quarter-final round-robin idea highlights this. It appeals to both sides, for different reasons. But it doesn’t really solve the problems faced by clubs, as readers of this column will have seen highlighted last week.

The only way to give clubs a meaningful season back is to rip the club and county seasons apart completely. There are many issues to resolve before the GAA could look at doing that.

One of the key reasons they want to keep the All-Ireland finals in September is to avoid putting their big games consistently up against other sports. In the proposal below, the All-Ireland football final would take place on the first weekend in July.

Based on the 2017 calendar, the Division Three and Four National League finals would be played early on the same day as the finale of the Six Nations campaign. Ireland play England in a game that could decide where the title goes.

Crucially, it completely avoids the final day of the English Premier League season and the Champions League final, while putting just a handful of Qualifiers early on the day of the FA Cup final, all of which remain huge attractions to Irish sports fans.

Based on the current format of the Championship, where the provincial structures and the backdoor are retained, it offers two weeks between every game for each team in the provincial series. No more, no less. None of Fermanagh hanging about for a month between beating Antrim and meeting Donegal, as happened earlier this year.

Lest we forget, one of the other major issues in recent years has been the training-to-games ratio that inter-county players face. A county that exited in the first round of the Qualifiers this year could have played just 12 games in 25 weeks, provided they didn’t reach a National League final or a pre-season competition semi-final. The most they would have played is 14 games in 25 weeks.

This is one of the major contributory factors in the style of football we see today. Teams have so much spare time between games to analyse the opposition and to physically push the boundaries at training.

My proposal ensures that every county is playing every weekend from the start of the McKenna Cup until the end of the National League. There is no validity in an argument about putting this strain on players as every county team trains or plays challenge games on the weekends they don’t have league matches.

Modern players are physically capable of playing a game every weekend. Let no-one tell you they aren’t. The qualms come from management teams, who feel that a week is scant in terms of analysing the next opposition and putting a plan in place.

More games would mean less analysis on the opposition and lead back to a game that is more based on the basic skills. The fitness levels would possibly dip across the board, with more onus on rest and recovery in the weeks between games. This would surely be better for the players’ bodies when they come to retirement.

Páraic Duffy has called on the provincial councils to shorten their Championships, with a particular nod to Ulster. The provincial councils, though, need told what to do, rather than asked.

My proposal retains the various pre-season competitions and the National League finals. They are a valuable source of income for the GAA and have proved popular down the years.

Disbanding competitions like the McKenna Cup is a waste of time. The same counties would end up playing each other in challenge games anyway, but the GAA would get none of the promotion or income. Those competitions remain valuable.

Under this proposal, the National League does not need to break in February and March for the All-Ireland club semi-finals and finals. They would go in at the end of the year under the calendar year proposals.

The All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship would obviously continue to blend in with the football competition and it would have its own free weekends for the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final.

The football quarter-finals have traditionally been played over one weekend and there are plans afoot to play the semi-finals over one weekend too, which this plan brings into play.

The 24 counties Páraic Duffy would hope to free up by the end of July under his proposal would be free to start a proper club campaign by the start of June. A designated rest period for county players could be availed of, given that most counties would be in the early throes of their club league campaigns by that stage.

It would allow clubs to try and properly prepare for their own championships, which could begin nationwide in late-July, without any fear of hindrance or disruption from the inter-county game.

The club championships themselves could also be tightened up slightly, with a view to holding county finals in September. That would allow the provincial series to be completed in October and the All-Ireland played in November, with the final under lights in Croke Park. And December would be a closed month that everyone would abide by, just as they do now (ahem).

This idea will never be implemented and nothing near it will ever be properly examined by the GAA. But this is simply to prove that, if they really wanted to, they could do it.

Páraic Duffy has genuinely attempted to find a solution to the fixtures headache  

 

PROPOSED 2017 INTER-COUNTY SEASON
Sunday, January 8

Dr McKenna Cup round one; FBD League round one; O’Byrne Cup round one; McGrath Cup preliminary round

Wednesday, January 11
Dr McKenna Cup round two; FBD League round two; O’Byrne Cup round two

Sunday, January 15
Dr McKenna Cup round three; FBD League round three; O’Byrne Cup round three; McGrath Cup quarter-finals

Wednesday, January 18
Dr McKenna Cup semi-final; O’Byrne Cup semi-final; McGrath Cup semi-final

Saturday, January 21
Dr McKenna Cup final; FBD League final; O’Byrne Cup final; McGrath Cup final

Saturday, January 27/Sunday, January 28
National Football League round one

Saturday, February 4/Sunday, February 5
RBS Six Nations weekend - Scotland v Ireland (Saturday, February 4, 2.25pm); National Football League round two

Saturday, February 11/Sunday, February 12
RBS Six Nations weekend - Italy v Ireland (Saturday, February 11, 2.25pm); National Football League round three

Saturday, February 18/Sunday, February 19
National Football League round four

Saturday, February 25/Sunday, February 26
RBS Six Nations weekend - Ireland v France (Saturday, February 25, 4.50pm); National Football League round five

Saturday, March 4/Sunday, March 5
National Football League round six

Saturday, March 11/Sunday, March 12
RBS Six Nations weekend - Ireland v Wales (Friday, March 10, 8.05pm); National Football League round seven

Saturday, March 18
RBS Six Nations finale - England v Ireland (5pm); NFL Division Three final (1pm); NFL Division Four final (3pm)

Sunday, March 19
NFL Division Two final (2pm); NFL Division One final (4pm)

Saturday, March 25
Leinster SFC preliminary round: Louth v Carlow (Drogheda, 7pm); Connacht SFC preliminary round: New York v Roscommon (Gaelic Park, 8pm Irish time)

Sunday, March 26
Ulster SFC preliminary round: Fermanagh v Antrim (Brewster Park, 2pm); Leinster SFC preliminary round: Laois v Wicklow (O’Moore Park, 3pm); Leinster SFC preliminary round: Longford v Offaly (Pearse Park, 2pm, TV)

Saturday, April 8
Ulster SFC quarter-final: Monaghan v Down (Clones, 5pm, TV); Ulster SFC quarter-final: Cavan v Armagh (Breffni Park, 7pm, TV)

Sunday, April 9
Ulster SFC quarter-final: Derry v Tyrone (Celtic Park, 2pm, TV); Ulster SFC quarter-final: Donegal v Fermanagh (Letterkenny, 4pm, TV); Munster SFC quarter-final: Clare v Limerick (Cusack Park, 2pm); Munster SFC quarter-final: Waterford v Tipperary (Thurles, 3pm)

Saturday, April 15
Leinster SFC quarter-final: Offaly v Westmeath (Tullamore, 5pm); Connacht SFC quarter-final: Roscommon v Leitrim (Hyde Park, 5pm); Connacht SFC quarter-final: London v Mayo (Ruislip, 7pm)

Sunday, April 16
Leinster SFC quarter-final: Laois v Dublin (O’Moore Park, 2pm, TV); Leinster SFC quarter-final: Louth v Meath (O’Moore Park, 6pm, TV); Leinster SFC quarter-final: Wexford v Kildare (Wexford Park, 4pm)

Saturday, April 22
* European Champions Cup semi-finals
Ulster SFC semi-final: Tyrone v Cavan (Clones, 7pm, TV); Munster SFC semi-final: Tipperary v Cork (Thurles, 7pm); Round one Qualifiers: Laois v Armagh (3.30pm, Portlaoise); Derry v Louth (5pm, Owenbeg); Carlow v Wicklow (7pm, Carlow); Leitrim v Waterford (2pm, Carrick-on-Shannon); Down v Longford (2pm, Newry); Antrim v Limerick (2pm, Corrigan Park); Offaly v London (2pm, Tullamore); Wexford v Fermanagh (5pm, Wexford Park)

Sunday, April 23
Ulster SFC semi-final: Donegal v Monaghan (Clones, 2pm, TV); Munster SFC semi-final: Clare v Kerry (Cusack Park, 3pm)

Saturday, April 29
Leinster SFC semi-final: Dublin v Meath (Pairc Tailteann, 5pm, TV); Connacht SFC semi-final: Roscommon v Sligo (Hyde Park, 7pm, TV); Round two Qualifiers: Sligo v Leitrim (2pm, Markievicz Park); Derry v Meath (2.30pm, Owenbeg); Cavan v Carlow (5pm, Breffni Park); Clare v Laois (2pm, Ennis); Limerick v Cork (3pm, Thurles); Mayo v Fermanagh (3.30pm, Castlebar, TV); Monaghan v Longford (6.30pm, Clones); Kildare v Offaly (6.30pm, Newbridge)

Sunday, April 20
Leinster SFC semi-final: Westmeath v Kildare (Mullingar, 2pm, TV); Connacht SFC semi-final: Mayo v Galway (Castlebar, 4pm, TV)

Sunday, May 7
Munster SFC final: Kerry v Tipperary (2pm, TV); Ulster SFC final: Donegal v Tyrone (4pm, TV)

Saturday, May 13
* European Champions Cup final
Round three Qualifiers: Sligo v Clare (Markievicz Park, 5pm); Longford v Cork (Pearse Park, 6pm); Cavan v Derry (Breffni Park, 3.30pm); Mayo v Kildare (Castlebar, 7pm, TV)

Sunday, May 14
Leinster SFC final: Dublin v Westmeath (2pm, TV); Connacht SFC final: Galway v Roscommon (4pm, TV)

Sunday, May 21
*Final day of English Premier League season

Saturday, May 27
* FA Cup final
Round four Qualifiers: Derry v Tipperary (Breffni Park, 2pm); Cork v Donegal (Croke Park, 2.30pm, TV); Mayo v Westmeath (Croke Park, 4.30pm); Clare v Roscommon (Pearse Stadium, 3pm)

Sunday, May 28
* All-Ireland SHC quarter-finals

Sunday, June 4
All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals: Clare v Kerry (Croke Park, 2pm, TV); Dublin v Donegal (Croke Park, 4pm, TV)

Sunday, June 11
All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals: Galway v Tipperary (Croke Park, 2pm, TV); Tyrone v Mayo (Croke Park, 4pm, TV)

Sunday, June 18
* All-Ireland SHC semi-finals

Saturday, June 25
All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Kerry v Dublin (6pm, Croke Park, TV)

Sunday, June 26
All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Mayo v Tipperary (3.30pm, Croke Park, TV)

Sunday, July 2
* All-Ireland SHC final

Sunday, July 9
All-Ireland final: Dublin v Mayo (3.30pm, Croke Park, TV)

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