Are We Ready for a Different Beat to the Summer?

It’s always the exceptions that you need to watch out for. The GAA published the report of the Fixtures Calendar Review Taskforce at Croke Park yesterday with a series of 32 recommendations for the Association which would impact across all levels of club and inter-county competition.

Perhaps the most interesting and one that would generate a real sense of excitement and narrative is Proposal Two for the Senior Inter-County Football Championship to be played via an Allianz League style format in high summer.

It would mean switching the League with the Provincial Championships but the exception, which may prove its ultimate undoing is the participation of New York.

Let’s consider the schedule of what it could look like. The Provincial Championships would be played out over weeks 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8 with semi-finals in week 10 and the provincial football finals over two weekends in weeks 11 and 12 either side of St Patrick’s Weekend. A brilliant start to the year and the retention of the Provincial titles.

The Hurling Championship format would remain as has been established over the last two years with the Provincial Round Robins taking place in weeks 16, 17, 21, 22 and 26. The Provincial Finals would move back to week 27 at the start of July. The All Ireland Semi-Finals would be in week 36 and the final in week 38 on the third Sunday of September.

The Hurling League would remain in the spring with the Final on week 12 the second weekend of the Provincial Football Finals.

Groups

The Football Championship would involve four groups of eight teams streamed with the top two groups competing for the All Ireland Senior title and the third and fourth having a Tier Two route to Croke Park.

Every county, bar New York who would raise huge logistical problems, would play seven senior Championship games running across weeks 16 and 17 at the end of April through weeks 21 and 22 in May, 26 and 27 in June and July and with a final round on the first week in August. Quarter-Finals, via a method yet to be decided, would take place in weeks 32 and 33 with Semi-Finals for the Senior and the Final of the Tier Two competition taking place in Week 37, the second week of September, and the All Ireland Final being played in week 39 the fourth Sunday in September.

There would be nine weeks from the end of March through the end of August where Clubs would have the first call on players and a further five which would be deemed as prep weekends for Inter-County but which would still be dedicated to Club League matches to be played. October and November would be exclusively for Clubs, with the exception of special events like a potential intercontinental match in New York where the winners of the Tier Two Football Championship would play and the possibility of International Rules matches for players not still involved in Club Championships.

Problems

There are problems. It could be seen as a lessening in the importance of the provincial Championships in football but 46 per cent of a survey of 1,300 members and fans conducted online did not believe they needed to be retained.

We will come back to the results of that survey over the coming days.

The position of the Camogie and Ladies Football Finals would be another thing to consider. If played on the first and second weekends of September they would clash with Hurling and Men’s Football Semi-Finals. If they moved to the last two Sundays of August they would have a clear run at media and fans consciousness with those two weeks devoted to Club games. Either would have pros and cons.

There are other proposals, less revolutionary in terms of the rhythm and make-up of the Championship but also less exciting in providing a basis for seeing the best teams in action over a prolonged set of games at the height of summer while strengthening the profile of Club matches by also bringing them into the heart of when GAA holds sway.

Excited

I was genuinely excited thinking about this idea as the 63 full pages of the report began to sink in while attending a Club AGM that ran to past 11 pm last night. But then again I am not an exile in New York dreaming of my chance to play in an All Ireland Final. Sometimes, we have to make choices.

There is a proposed new Oversight Unit that would see four full-time Fixtures Analysts appointed (one in each province) who would assist Counties in planning Club Fixture programmes. At present, there is a gap between those who manage this well and those who do not. Some clubs would prefer to keep matches in the shoulder period to accommodate young players heading off on holidays or on work and playing trips to the US. Sometimes we have to make choices.

This new Oversight Unit would have responsibility for helping to ensure clubs had more access to their county players, that all available dates to play club games with county players are utilised and would have the power to impose sanctions on counties for breaches of rule.

It would also be responsible for ensuring counties submit club fixture plans by the end of December and for ensuring inter-county teams respect the closed season and the various other restrictions on inter-county activity outlined in the GAA rulebook. Under these proposals, inter-county training would not start back before December 1.

It is also recommended that 16 teams be the maximum number of teams allowed in senior and intermediate club championships.

The Taskforce met 12 times and was comprised of stakeholders from across the full spectrum of GAA fixtures and included representatives from second and third level bodies, county secretaries, the GPA and a variety of people with experience and knowledge in the compilation of fixture programmes. The CPA contributed prior to opting out on November 18.

More than 1,300 members and supporters took part in a detailed survey via an on-line questionnaire. More than 50 different written submissions were also received by the committee relating to the fixtures calendar.

Discussion

It will now go back to the membership for discussion and debate through a series of regional seminars around the country with clubs from every county invited to have a representative present to engage and provide feedback.

It is envisaged that a number of motions will be on the Clár of the 2020 Annual Congress at the end of February, with most of the remainder being tabled at a Special Congress which will be held later next year.

If adopted, the earliest the new recommendations would be in place for is the 2021 season.

The GAA season provides the drumbeat to which a large number of sporting people in Ireland march.

Changing it will never gain universal acceptance but the task force looked back deep into the mists of time for a quote to sum up their approach channelling the words of Heraclitus who said, 500 years before Christ was born, that ‘nothing endures but change.’

It could yet take the same time again to reach a full consensus on the best way forward, maybe longer if everybody has to have their say but you have to keep moving forward.

As a fan of Club and County games as well as a host of other sports, I could see Option Two providing the backdrop to summers stretching towards the far horizon.

Image credit: Billy Stickland, Inpho.ie

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