GAA Football

Kicking Out: 2020 vision: The way the fixtures calendar could look in 2020, if the GAA are prepared to listen

With balancing the demands of club and inter-county action arguably the biggest challenge facing the GAA, Cahair O'Kane has come up with a fixtures schedule to try and alleviate the problems...

The All-Ireland club finals would be played in January under Cahair O'Kane's proposal for the fixtures calendar.

LAST week, the UK’s Supreme Court threw out an attempt by the British government’s Brexit secretary to block a European court from hearing a case on whether article 50 – which triggered the UK’s mindless upcoming-departure from the EU – can legally be reversed.

All those taking the case seem to want is for the answer to be put into the public sphere before Brexit happens, so that when it does and the UK falls to an arse, those that put their fingers in their ears, closed their eyes and sang ‘la-la-la-la-la’ when a second referendum was mentioned can be held to account in years to come.

An answer would leave them with nothing to hide behind, because they’ll have known if it was reversible, and we’ll have known that they knew.

So the reason that the Brexit secretary would oppose it on the government’s behalf is very obvious: they don’t want the public to know the answer.

[SCROLL DOWN TO SEE CAHAIR'S PROPOSED GAA FIXTURES CALENDAR]

At the weekend past, the GAA’s Central Council did pretty much the same thing.

Roscommon’s motion that the fixture planning process be torn up and restarted with a blank canvas was rejected by the central decision-making body over the weekend.

“The GAA President invited them to submit their own proposals with regard to fixture making for consideration,” read a statement. History tells us they’d be wasting their time.

It would be wrong to say that outcome was a surprise. The Club Players’ Association tried, with its limited powers, to create a wave of pressure but it never seemed likely to succeed.

As they’ve alluded to over the year just gone, the situation for club players was worsened rather than improved by the latest incremental change to the All-Ireland championships.

April proved semi-useful in the sense of getting a block of club fixtures run off, but the image of empty club pitches every weekend through the best summer of weather seen for generations was more frustrating than anything that had gone before.

The potential impact of future recurrences was ramped up when the FAI recently announced that their schoolboy leagues would fall into line with their premier competitions and become summer tournaments.

For years, the GAA has had its own way. Most fellas were bound more tightly to their GAA club by its nature, and soccer was a useful, enjoyable outlet in the winter. A way of staving off cobwebs and getting a fix.

Soccer clubs are fearing the impact, and well they might, but it could cause a swing the other way too. The lure of a regular set of sporting fixtures across a defined period, in a time when that is not on offer from the GAA, will prove attractive for some.

Instead, they focussed on football’s playing rules and a two-tiered championship, both of which absolutely did need looking at as well.

There has been little in the words of John Horan, Tom Ryan or his predecessor Páraic Duffy to suggest that their plans for the latter involve any significant further tightening of the inter-county calendar beyond the few weeks they conceded last year.

The inter-county game needs a presence on the national stage, and it needs to create income, but the importance of those two components have been built up to dwarf everything else in the GAA.

Impressive recent county final attendances are a thick layer of make-up on the club game’s blemished face.

To take two examples, clubs in Tyrone’s top flight didn’t kick a ball between July 1 and September 6.

There wasn't a ball kicked in the top flight of Tyrone club football between July 1 and September 6 this year, during one of the best spells of warm weather seen in generations. The sight of empty club pitches owes to the overarching inter-county game, something that must be addressed.

The CPA last week described summer club football as “already practically extinct”, which was none of an exaggeration.

In Antrim, Loughgiel hurlers went 49 days without a game between April 15 and June 3, and then had a second spell with just one game between June 20 and July 22. That’s a huge portion of the year to lose in a summer sport.

Overlapping club and inter-county seasons are not compatible. A split, as far as is possible, is needed.

But the GAA centrally has always resisted it, claiming that there simply weren’t enough weeks in the year to do it.

Yet as the calendar below shows, it absolutely is possible. It requires concessions from both the inter-county game and the clubs.

On top of introducing the second tier competition, the Super 8s would also have to disappear.

They eat up a minimum of two weeks, more than likely three because of the need for some kind of break. That simply cannot be afforded if the idea of a shared calendar is to work.

In an ideal world, the provincial championships would be rebalanced. There’s still a strength in them, but life would be so much easier if they were four equal pots of eight.

But there’s no sense that altering a competition that remains valuable mostly because of its historical significance would aid the inter-county game.

The GAA does absolutely need a strong, vibrant inter-county game. But they can have that over a shorter period of time.

Under this proposal, they would still have seven months of the year.

The clubs would have the other five, and crucially a minimum of eight weeks between the end of the inter-county championship and the start of club ones.

That would give county boards the chance to offer a fairer, more reliable calendar of fixtures for their clubs.

A number of stipulations are vital. Club championships must be streamlined. One county operating a round-robin while their neighbours have a back door, and then a straight knockout on the other side, all leads to chaos because they all have to feed into the same provincial system.

As long as counties are allowed to go on doing as they please in that regard, the problem will never sort itself out no matter what happens to the inter-county game.

The clubs also need to accept that the inter-county world exists, and that it will always have some impact. Having promotion and relegation decided by league structures in which inter-county players may or may not be available is a recipe for disruption.

It has to be a give-and-take situation, because they’re conjoined with the one heart and one set of lungs. One cannot survive without the other.

As it is, the inter-county game is suffocating the club game, as Brian Cody and others have alluded to recently. It has to be stripped back.

The end of June is an achievable end-date. The calendar allows for a break in the middle of the National League, and for a minimum of 13 days between football championship games.

Hurling is tighter during the provincial window, as was the case this year, but there’s a break in the middle and then a fortnight between games once those competitions hit the final stages.

The only argument against doing this is money, and how it’s simply become more important to the GAA than time.

And that’s where you have to ask why they closed their eyes to Roscommon’s motion.

It’s one thing to not listen to the answer, but another thing entirely to block the question.

*******

The All-Ireland football final would be played on the last weekend of June and paired with the new Tier Two SFC decider.

KEY POINTS TO NOTE
- The subsidiary competitions (McKenna Cup, FBD League, etc) would be disbanded

- Each team has a minimum of 13 days between games in the provincial series

- Joe McDonagh, Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cup finals all to be played across a Festival of Hurling weekend in May, as part of two triple-headers of games, one involving the Munster SHC final and the other involving the Leinster SHC final

- Last 16 in the All-Ireland SFC go into a straight knockout draw, with provincial winners/runners-up on one side and round two qualifiers on the other. Provincial winners/runners-up given home advantage in last 16

- Those that do not make the last 16 go into the All-Ireland Tier Two SFC, which runs on a straight knockout basis concurrent with All-Ireland SFC, with games in latter stages played as double-headers

- Tier Two SFC semi-finals and final paired with All-Ireland SFC semi-finals at finals, and broadcast live on TV

- RTÉ to broadcast extended highlights from at least one Tier Two SFC game in each round

- Plan would re-energise the inter-county game in the weaker counties by pairing big games and giving live TV exposure

- Condensing the inter-county season allows weaker counties to compete without worrying about the financial implications of a Tier Two SFC running into late summer, thus making their costs rise

- Counties could effectively and adequately plan their club calendars with minimal likelihood of disruption. Early games could be played minus county players as a trade-off for having exclusive, unbroken access to them for the final five months of the calendar year.

- All club dates between January and August 23 would be at the discretion of individual counties and what suits them best

- All inter-county players would be available to clubs for a minimum of eight consecutive weeks before the beginning of their respective championships, allowing the same opportunity for proper planning and preparation that inter-county teams are afforded

- The All-Ireland club semi-finals and finals would be played in January, and players involved would not be available to their inter-county team for at least the first four league games, which still represents an improvement on the current situation

- Crucially, all club championships would have to be streamlined. One of the biggest challenges the overall GAA calendar faces is the different shapes and structures from county to county. Club championships would have to return to a straight knockout format in hurling and football involving a maximum of 16 teams, right across the 32 counties. Otherwise a fair, organised and predictable calendar for players is simply not possible

*****

PROPOSED 2020 INTER-COUNTY GAA FIXTURE CALENDAR

Allianz National Leagues
January 4/5:
NFL round one; NHL round one
January 11/12: NFL round two; NHL round two
January 18/19: NFL round three; NHL round three
January 25/26: Break week in Allianz NFL; NHL round four
February 1/2: NFL round four; Break week in Allianz NHL
February 8/9: NFL round five; NHL round five
February 15/16: NFL round six; NHL quarter-finals
February 22/23: NFL round seven; NHL semi-finals
February 29/March 1: NFL finals
March 7/8: NHL finals

PROVINCIAL AND ALL-IRELAND CHAMPIONSHIPS
*Based on 2019 draw, with winners in each game selected as the highest-ranked league team for purposes of fixture planning

Sunday, March 15
Ulster SFC preliminary round, Healy Park, 7pm:
Tyrone v Derry (RTÉ)

Saturday, March 21
Joe McDonagh Cup, Tullamore, 2pm:
Offaly v Laois
Joe McDonagh Cup, Corrigan Park, 2pm: Antrim v Kerry
Christy Ring Cup, Nicky Rackard Cup, Lory Meagher Cup round one

Sunday, March 22
Connacht SFC, Gaelic Park, 7pm:
New York v Mayo
Leinster SFC round one, Drogheda, 2pm: Louth v Wexford
Leinster SFC round one, Aughrim, 3.30pm: Wicklow v Kildare
Leinster SFC round one, Navan, 3.30pm: Meath v Offaly
Leinster SHC round robin, Pearse Stadium, 2pm: Galway v Carlow
Leinster SHC round robin, Nowlan Park, 4pm: Kilkenny v Dublin
Munster SHC round robin, Pairc Úi Chaoimh, 2pm: Cork v Tipperary (Sky)
Munster SHC round robin, Walsh Park, 4pm: Waterford v Clare (RTÉ)

Saturday, March 28
Joe McDonagh Cup, Portlaoise, 2pm:
Laois v Antrim
Joe McDonagh Cup, Mullingar, 2pm: Westmeath v Offaly
Ulster SFC quarter-final, Breffni Park, 5pm: Cavan v Monaghan (RTÉ)
Ulster SFC quarter-final, Newry, 7pm: Down v Armagh (Sky)
Munster SFC quarter-final, Thurles, 7pm: Tipperary v Limerick

Sunday, March 29
Ulster SFC quarter-final, Armagh, 2pm:
Antrim v Tyrone
Ulster SFC quarter-final, Brewster Park, 4pm: Fermanagh v Donegal (RTÉ)
Munster SFC quarter-final, Cusack Park, 3.30pm: Clare v Waterford
Leinster SHC round robin, Dr Cullen Park, 2pm: Carlow v Kilkenny
Leinster SHC round robin, Parnell Park, 3.30pm Dublin v Wexford
Munster SHC round robin, Gaelic Grounds, 2pm: Limerick v Cork (RTÉ)
Munster SHC round robin, Thurles, 4pm: Tipperary v Waterford

Saturday, April 4
Connacht SFC, Ruislip, 1.30pm:
London v Galway
Connacht SFC, Carrick-on-Shannon, 4pm: Leitrim v Roscommon
Joe McDonagh Cup, Mullingar, 3.30pm: Westmeath v Kerry
Joe McDonagh Cup, Tullamore, 3.30pm: Offaly v Antrim
Christy Ring Cup, Nicky Rackard Cup, Lory Meagher Cup round two

Sunday, April 5
Leinster SFC quarter-final, Portlaoise, 2pm:
Louth v Dublin
Leinster SFC quarter-final, Newbridge, 3.30pm: Kildare v Longford
Leinster SFC quarter-final, Navan, 3.30pm: Meath v Carlow
Leinster SFC quarter-final, Mullingar, 4pm: Westmeath v Laois
Leinster SHC round robin, Pearse Stadium, 2pm: Galway v Wexford (Sky)
Leinster SHC round robin, Dr Cullen Park, 4pm: Carlow v Dublin
Munster SHC round robin, Walsh Park, 2pm: Waterford v Limerick
Munster SHC round robin, Cusack Park, 4pm: Clare v Tipperary (RTÉ)

Saturday, April 11
Ulster SFC semi-final, Omagh, 6pm:
Monaghan v Armagh (RTÉ)
Munster SFC semi-final, Thurles/Pairc Úi Chaoimh, 7pm: Tipperary v Cork
Christy Ring Cup, Nicky Rackard Cup, Lory Meagher Cup round three

Sunday, April 12
Ulster SFC semi-final, Clones, 2pm:
Donegal v Tyrone (RTÉ)
Munster SFC semi-final, Cusack Park, 4pm: Clare v Kerry

Saturday, April 18
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round one, Aughrim, 5pm:
Wicklow v Cavan
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round one, Tullamore 5pm: Offaly v Derry
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round one, Newry, 3pm: Down v Waterford
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round one, Portlaoise, 2pm: Laois v London
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round one, Brewster Park, 3.30pm: Fermanagh v Wexford
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round one, Pearse Park, 4pm: Longford v Leitrim
Leinster SHC round robin, Wexford Park, 5pm: Wexford v Carlow
Leinster SHC round robin, Nowlan Park, 5pm: Kilkenny v Galway (Sky)

Sunday, April 19
Connacht SFC semi-final, Castlebar, 2pm:
Mayo v Roscommon (RTÉ)
Connacht SFC semi-final, Markievicz Park, 4pm: Sligo v Galway
Leinster SFC semi-final, Navan, 2pm: Meath v Westmeath
Leinster SFC semi-final, Newbridge, 4pm: Kildare v Dublin (RTÉ)
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round one, Dr Cullen Park, 2pm: Carlow v Louth
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round one, Corrigan Park, 2.45pm: Antrim v Limerick
Munster SHC round robin, Pairc Úi Chaoimh, 2pm: Cork v Waterford
Munster SHC round robin, Gaelic Grounds, 4pm: Limerick v Clare
Joe McDonagh Cup, Corrigan Park, 1pm: Antrim v Westmeath
Joe McDonagh Cup, Tralee, 2.30pm: Kerry v Laois

Saturday, April 25
Munster SFC final, Killarney/Thurles, 7pm:
Kerry v Tipperary (RTÉ)
Leinster SHC round robin, Parnell Park, 5pm: Dublin v Galway (Sky)
Joe McDonagh Cup, Portlaoise, 3pm: Laois v Westmeath
Joe McDonagh Cup, Tralee, 2.30pm: Kerry v Offaly
Christy Ring Cup, Nicky Rackard Cup, Lory Meagher Cup semi-finals

Sunday, April 26
Ulster SFC final, Clones, 2pm:
Monaghan v Tyrone (RTÉ)
Leinster SHC round robin, Wexford Park, 2pm: Wexford v Kilkenny
Munster SHC round robin, Thurles, 2pm: Tipperary v Limerick
Munster SHC round robin, Cusack Park, 4pm: Clare v Cork (Sky)

Saturday, May 2
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round two, Markievicz Park, 4pm:
Sligo v Cork
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round two, Newry, 7pm: Down v Antrim
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round two, Armagh, 3pm: Armagh v Longford
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round two, Owenbeg, 4pm: Derry v Kildare
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round two, Dr Cullen Park, 3.30pm: Carlow v Westmeath
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round two, Cusack Park, 4pm: Clare v Roscommon (Sky)
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round two, MacCumhaill Park, 5pm: Donegal v Fermanagh
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round two, Breffni Park, 3.30pm: Cavan v Laois

Sunday, May 3
Leinster SFC final, Croke Park, 2pm:
Dublin v Meath (RTÉ)
Connacht SFC final, Salthill/Castlebar, 4pm: Mayo v Galway (RTÉ)

Saturday, May 9
Leinster SHC final, Salthill/Nowlan Park, 7pm:
Kilkenny v Galway (RTÉ)
Joe McDonagh Cup final, Salthill/Nowlan Park, 5pm: Laois v Kerry (RTÉ)
Christy Ring Cup final, Salthill/Nowlan Park, 3pm (TG4)

Sunday, May 10
Munster SHC final, Gaelic Grounds, 4.30pm:
Limerick v Cork (RTÉ)
Nicky Rackard Cup final, Gaelic Grounds, 2.30pm (TG4)
Lory Meagher Cup final, Gaelic Grounds, 12.30pm (TG4)

Saturday, May 16
All-Ireland SHC preliminary quarter-final, Portlaoise, 2pm:
Laois v Tipperary
All-Ireland SFC last 16, Thurles, 3.30pm: Tipperary v Cavan
All-Ireland SFC last 16, Clones, 4.30pm: Monaghan v Down
All-Ireland SFC last 16, Croke Park, 5pm: Dublin v Cork (Sky)
All-Ireland SFC last 16, Healy Park, 7pm: Tyrone v Armagh (RTÉ)
All-Ireland Tier Two SFC last 16, Fraher Field, 4pm: Waterford v Fermanagh
All-Ireland Tier Two SFC last 16, Cusack Park, 1.30pm: Clare v London
All-Ireland Tier Two SFC last 16, Thurles, 1.30pm or Dr Cullen Park, 3.30pm: Carlow v Leitrim
All-Ireland Tier Two SFC last 16, Healy Park, 5pm or Corrigan Park, 3.30pm: Antrim v Wicklow

Sunday, May 17
All-Ireland SHC preliminary quarter-final, Tralee, 2pm:
Kerry v Wexford
All-Ireland SFC last 16, Castlebar, 2pm: Mayo v Donegal (RTÉ)
All-Ireland SFC last 16, Salthill, 4pm: Galway v Roscommon (Sky)
All-Ireland SFC last 16, Navan, 4pm: Meath v Kildare
All-Ireland SFC last 16, Killarney, 6.30pm: Kerry v Westmeath
All-Ireland Tier Two SFC last 16, Markievicz Park, 2pm or Salthill, 2pm: Sligo v Limerick
All-Ireland Tier Two SFC last 16, Owenbeg, 3.30pm: Derry v Longford (Extended highlights, RTÉ)
All-Ireland Tier Two SFC last 16, Darver, 2pm or Navan, 2pm: Louth v Wexford
All-Ireland Tier Two SFC last 16, Portlaoise, 3.30pm: Laois v Offaly

Sunday, May 24
All-Ireland SHC quarter-final, Thurles/Pairc Úi Chaoimh, 2pm:
Kilkenny v Tipperary (Sky)
All-Ireland SHC quarter-final, Thurles/Pairc Úi Chaoimh, 4pm: Cork v Wexford (Sky)

Saturday, May 30
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final, Croke Park, 5pm:
Dublin v Monaghan (Sky)
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final, Castlebar, 7pm: Mayo v Tipperary (RTÉ)
All-Ireland Tier Two SFC quarter-final, Croke Park, 3pm: Longford v Laois (Extended highlights, RTÉ)
All-Ireland Tier Two SFC quarter-final, Ennis, 3.30pm or Castlebar, 5pm: Clare v Louth

Sunday, May 31
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final, Omagh, 2.30pm:
Tyrone v Kildare (Sky)
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final, Killarney, 4.15pm: Kerry v Galway (RTÉ)
All-Ireland Tier Two SFC quarter-final, Omagh, 12.30pm or Corrigan Park, 2pm: Antrim v Sligo
All-Ireland Tier Two SFC quarter-final, Killarney, 2pm or Dr Cullen Park, 3.30pm: Carlow v Fermanagh

Saturday, June 6
All-Ireland SHC semi-final, Croke Park, 5pm:
Limerick v Tipperary (RTÉ) (Sky)

Sunday, June 7
All-Ireland SHC semi-final, Croke Park, 2pm:
Galway v Cork (RTÉ) (Sky)

Saturday, June 13
All-Ireland SFC semi-final, Croke Park, 6pm:
Dublin v Tyrone (RTÉ) (Sky)
All-Ireland Tier Two SFC semi-final, Croke Park, 4pm: Fermanagh v Clare (RTÉ)

Sunday, June 14
All-Ireland SFC semi-final, Croke Park, 3.30pm:
Kerry v Mayo (RTÉ) (Sky)
All-Ireland Tier Two SFC semi-final, Croke Park, 1.30pm: Longford v Sligo (RTÉ)

Sunday, June 21
All-Ireland SHC final, Croke Park, 3.30pm:
Limerick v Galway (RTÉ) (Sky)

Sunday, June 28
All-Ireland SFC final, Croke Park, 3.30pm
: Dublin v Kerry (RTÉ) (Sky)
All-Ireland Tier Two SFC final, Croke Park, 1.30pm: Longford v Clare (RTÉ)

*****

PROPOSED 2020 GAA OUTLINE CLUB CALENDAR
January 1 – March 8: Pre-season

March 9 – May 17: Club leagues: No county players available to anyone

May 18-31: Club leagues: Inter-county footballers available in counties beaten in last 16 of Tier One and Tier Two SFC. Inter-county hurlers available from Joe McDonagh, Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard, Lory Meagher

June 1-7: Club leagues: Inter-county footballers available in counties beaten in quarter-finals of Tier One and Tier Two SFC. Inter-county hurlers available from beaten All-Ireland SHC quarter-finalists

June 8-14: Club leaguesInter-county hurlers available from beaten All-Ireland SHC semi-finalists

June 15-21: Club leagues: Inter-county footballers available in counties beaten in semi-finals of Tier One and Tier Two SFC

June 22-28: Club leagues: All inter-county hurlers available

June 29 – August 23: Club leagues: All players available to clubs

August 24 – October 18: County football and hurling championships (alternating weekends, straight knockout, max 16 teams)

October 19 – December 6: Provincial club football and hurling championships (current format)

January 16/17, 2021: All-Ireland Club Football and Hurling semi-finals

January 30/31, 2021: All-Ireland Club Football and Hurling finals

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access

Today's horoscope

Horoscope


See a different horoscope: