Hurling and camogie

Antrim's Conor McCann: split season can help solve GAA fixtures problem

Antrim hurling captain Conor McCann lifting the Joe McDonagh Cup in Croke Park in December.
Picture Seamus Loughran
Paddy Tierney

ANTRIM'S Conor McCann says more work is needed to resolve issues for dual players, but feels the split GAA season is a good start on the path to solving the fixtures conundrum.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the GAA were forced to reschedule many of the 2020 competitions with the clubs Championships taking centre stage in the summer before the inter-county season resumed in the autumn.

As Antrim hurling captain, McCann had the honour of leading his team to glory in the Joe McDonagh Cup - beating Kerry by two points in the decider in Croke Park on All-Ireland final day last month.

The Saffrons also secured the Division 2A title at the expense of the Kingdom and will ply their trade in the top tier of the Allianz Hurling League for the forthcoming season.

The format of Division One has yet to be confirmed with the teams usually split into two groups of similar strength.

The planned return to collective training for inter-county teams was pushed back until at least the start of February and it seems increasingly likely that the Leagues will be moved to a later start date as well.

While the pandemic may have forced the GAA's hand in term of fixtures, McCann is glad the split season has been retained.

"Any player I've talked to, be it Ladies footballers, Camgos, footballers - they are all the same. This is the only way it can work, club and county being separate," said McCann.

"That's possibly the only good thing that came from the Pandemic- the split season being forced on us.

"For a dual player like me, it is the only way forward. Everyone has heard stories of managers forcing players to pick one code or the other and this is a way that facilitate everyone. Everyone gets a chance to play for their club and county and nobody is getting pulled left and right and then maybe have a bigger risk of injury.

"There was a quick enough turnaround last season from the club Championship ending to the county starting. I think I'd two days off after the club season then I was back training and that was tight enough going."

However, the condensed club season also caused problems for several dual clubs in Antrim last season, especially for Rossa and St John's.

Both West Belfast teams made it through to the semi-finals of the Senior Hurling Championship only to be pipped by Dunloy and Loughgiel respectively while they also compete in the Senior Football Championship.

The dual players at both clubs were playing two Championship games a week for the best part of two months.

McCann lines out for the senior footballers and hurlers of his native Creggan Kickhams, who suffered a three-point defeat after extra-time to neighbours Cargin in the county football final back in September.

The Antrim county board were praised for their coverage and promotion of the various club Championships during a difficult 2020 season and McCann says the next step has to be to find a better way forward to accommodate dual clubs.

"Definitely there is a bit of room for better planning of fixtures at club level with the different codes," added McCann.

"I think Rossa and St John's in particular found it difficult this season and rightly so. They played maybe 10 or 12 games in a month or something like that. They were going well and they picked up a few wee niggling injuries.

"I think the county board, if they worked a bit more with the planning of the hurling and football fixtures, it would work a bit smoother.

"The Antrim Championships this year were probably the best that there has been in a long time and that can continue if fixtures are worked out a bit better."

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Hurling and camogie