GAA Football

GAA needs a centralised fixtures system to solve club v county debate: Antrim boss Lenny Harbinson

Lenny Harbinson believes clubs are the centrepiece of the GAA and that a centralised fixtures system is the only way to fix the tensions between club and county

LENNY Harbinson says the only way to resolve the on-going fixtures crisis is for Croke Park to devise a centralised system in order for both club and county programmes to flourish.

The Antrim manager also reiterated his call for a tiered Championship but that it would need an energetic marketing strategy for it to succeed.

“I’m 100 per cent behind the clubs,” said Harbinson.

“Everything in the GAA and what we stand for is predicated on the clubs. The fixtures [issue] is a very, very difficult square to circle in terms of accommodating the clubs and the county because the county is the shop window of the GAA which generates the big money and the TV deals. I understand that. We’re not stupid.

“And we need that commercial aspect but at the same time the clubs have got to be accommodated. The biggest problem, as I see it, is that there are too many secondary bodies. The provisional bodies run their own competitions and are doing their own thing – but from a fixtures point of view all that should be centralised.

“That’s one big problem the GAA needs to address.”

Earlier this month, Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney floated the idea of splitting club and county into two separate six-month periods.

“We have 12 months in the year – I still think we can fit both club and county in but why they always have to overlap and fight...

“We only play, what is it, 14 games? We can easily fit that into six months. But the thing is they want to keep us in the papers all year but they don’t want to separate us. I can’t understand it."

Harbinson, who guided his club St Gall’s to the All-Ireland senior title in 2010, took the Antrim reins this season and has started well, winning two-out-of-two in Division Four.

And while the county has designs on climbing the slippery rungs of the Allianz Leagues, the Antrim boss insists that a tiered Championship is long overdue.

“I know that a tiered Championship has an element of elitism, but it is there, that’s sport,” he said.

“We have it in every county: you have senior, intermediate and junior. All what we’re saying is replicate that at county level throughout the country.

“For instance, if Antrim are playing Wicklow they should play it before an All-Ireland quarter-final at Croke Park. Before the All-Ireland final, the intermediate final is going to be played, and the same idea at the semi-final stages.

“There would be an Allstar selection at intermediate level, an Allstar trip... Okay, you mightn’t get the same TV deals but there are ways and means.

“I was at the All-Ireland quarter-final double-header of Tyrone versus Armagh and Dublin versus Monaghan last summer. They turned out to be two non-events but if there had been a meaningful game between Louth and Leitrim – two teams of equal standing – it actually might’ve been the better game of the two games on show.”

Harbinson doesn’t believe county players would walk away from a tiered Championship and that momentum could easily be built if the GAA learned the mistakes of the much-maligned Tommy Murphy Cup that was disbanded after five years [2004 to 2008].

“A tiered Championship would have to be marketed properly to be a meaningful part of the GAA calendar. It has to happen.

And then the two finalists could be given a wild card for the following year’s senior Championship.”

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