Ulster secretary calls on county boards to be strict with managers on April being 'club only'
ULSTER GAA secretary Brian McAvoy has called on county boards to be firm with team managers in imposing the idea of April as a club-only month.
As part of its changes to the calendar, which will be implemented this year with the likelihood of being adopted full-time at the end of 2020, April has been cleared as a month for counties to play club fixtures without interruption from inter-county teams.
The number of inter-county fixtures during the month is set to reduce from 63 last year to just two in 2018, while the National League and Championship programmes will both run off in a shorter timeframe than in previous years.
Earlier this month, however, Club Players Association chairman Michéal Briody said that the changes would mean “carnage for the club” because of the lack of enforcement of rules around club-only periods by Croke Park.
In his annual report, McAvoy feels that the changes will have a positive impact for clubs.
“The Special Congress on 30 September  agreed a range of changes which will significantly benefit the club player in both hurling and football.
“The fixtures issue has been an issue that has generated more column inches and hours of debate over many years and, given the complexities of the requirement to find an acceptable mix between club/county, hurling/ football and the different grades in the respective codes, it is fair to say that there is no utopia or no solution that will receive universal acceptance.
“However only the most partial of commentators could conclude that the changes adopted on 30 September will not benefit the club player.
“Not only is the month of April now free for club activity (apart from the Allianz League Division 1 and 2 Finals on 1 April) but there are eight additional weekends free from inter-county activity in 2018 than there were in 2017.
“By digging a little deeper we discover that in 2017 there were 63 adult inter-county fixtures played in April – in 2018 there will just be the two referred to above.
“The month of September is also virtually free for club activity – in 2017 there were six adult inter-county games played in September and this will reduce to just one in 2018 and if it were not for the unavailability of Croke Park on the last weekend in August there would be none at all.
”For the vast majority of counties August will also be totally free to play club games for after the first weekend of that month just two counties will remain in the hurling championship and four in the football championship.
“County Committees will need to remain firm with team managers to ensure that county players are available to clubs for the maximum possible time and especially during the month of April. Start as you mean to continue and if you get it right in Year One life will be much more comfortable moving forward.”
He also reiterated a call he made in his report last year to have the black card replaced by a punishment of a yellow card and a 13-metre free, irrespective of where on the field the foul occurred.
“Nothing I have seen in the last twelve months has changed my opinion – the problem still remains and, arguably, has got even worse.
“There were occasions over the summer when players were ‘black carded' and even with the most liberal interpretation of the rule, the offence could not be considered as being in any way consistent with the ‘deliberate' benchmark.”