GAA Football

GAA set to confirm split-season plans

2020 saw club competitions played off first without interference from inter-county teams, and proved hugely successful. Picture by Philip Walsh

THE prospect of a permanent split-season in GAA is expected to move a step closer today, with the fixture task force set to finalise plans to put it on the agenda for next year's annual congress.

The task force will make their final recommendations after an 18-month process. They would mostly likely come into play from 2022 if passed.

It is anticipated that they will propose going with inter-county games first, with the current format of Allianz Leagues and provincial and All-Ireland championships to effectively be flipped.

The provincial championships will be retained but look set for a move into the beginning of the year, with the All-Irelands to take place on a league basis towards the summer months.

That is understood to be the preference in terms of change, although the GAA are also set to put forward a motion to retain the existing status quo with a few minor changes.

The task force's original report last December had rejected the idea of a split season, saying that despite the “clear advantage” of the idea, it had “concluded that it would not be the best solution for the fixture challenges faced by the GAA”.

The recommendations – first revealed in The Irish News last September, on the eve of Congress – were to redraw the provincial championships into four pots of eight, or to use the current National League structure as the basis for the championship in summer, with the provincial competitions played earlier in the year.

Both were revealed with two different scheduling options that would have seen inter-county and club fixtures take alternate windows between March and the end of July, with the All-Ireland finals pushed back into September.

However, while the basis of the idea is not understood to have changed, the thinking around the dates has been radically altered by the 2020 season.

Amid the pandemic crisis, the decision to play club games in one exclusive window and inter-county games in another proved hugely popular across the entire playing base.

It has led to a wave of support behind the idea of a permanent split season, with any number of inter-county players and managers speaking out in favour of it.

Key to its success was the largely strict adherence to a ban on inter-county training until mid-September.

The fact that inter-county games are set to go first under the new plans will make that an easier element for the GAA to control, which could be central to its acceptance.

The GPA signalled this summer that they would propose a shorter 23-week inter-county season, a significant reduction from the current 40-week season in a standard year.

The players' body had stated it wanted the season to run from February until the end of July while the Club Players' Association, which withdrew from the task force on the eve of their report being launched last December, then put forward two sets of plans which would have seen the inter-county season end in mid-July.

That appears to be the direction in which the GAA is now headed, although the finer details of exactly how the plans are mapped out will become clear later today.

The original proposal for a league-based Championship appeared to have several flaws, one being that the bottom four teams in Division One would eliminated from the championship at the end of the league series, while the top four in Division Two, and the top sides in Divisions Three and Four, would progress at their expense.

Any proposals wouldn't apply to the 2021 season, which the GAA is understood to be considering major alterations to. President John Horan confirmed earlier this week that the start of the Allianz Leagues will be pushed back. They may not even happen in their present guise, with regional leagues being considered.

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