The GAA made a bold step last year in radically revising the fixture schedule to provide more games of consequence in the Championship and more time for players to return to club action. It’s a three-year trial and absolutely the right thing to do but inevitably there are already those questioning the wisdom.
You know the phrase that you can’t please all of the people all of the time well that will need to be an inner mantra for the fixture list designers this year.
The preseason competitions are in full flow already, wrestling with snow and storms but ’twas ever thus. For counties with an abundance of players, it is an opportunity to try out new faces, for others it will be a big ask to keep players going through possibly five games in January then seven or maybe eight in February and March in the Allianz Leagues.
Then it’s into April which has been effectively cleared for the Clubs to get their best players back, in whatever condition that might be, before the high days of Championship summer.
Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola was highly critical during the week of the fact that his team had played five games between December 3rd and January 3rd, and two in three days on Sunday and Tuesday.
He spoke of the fact that Leagues and teams demand an ever greater amount of action and that ‘there will always be another player to wear the jersey.’
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He countered though with the fact that individual players welfare is being forgotten in this rush to more and more games. Injuries are more difficult to manage without proper recovery time and the demands of international football mean that players will effectively be on the admittedly very well paid treadmill for eleven months of the year, every year, without a break.
There will likely be little sympathy in the remaining factories that might be operational around Manchester but it always the case that change is driven by people rising up against perceived unfairness and player welfare has always been a higher regarded subject in GAA circles than in the Premier League.
The new schedule demands that players will have been in training, either on their own, in small groups or in unofficial ‘team’ sessions over the Christmas break, most likely well before the end of the period in which collective training is not permitted.
The winter training ban for county teams was introduced less than seven years ago and was meant to be for the period of November and December. That has gradually been pared back and there are players now who are increasingly feeling the pressure on work and family life.
There will always be a young gun coming up behind to take a place of one who decides that enough is enough and that is and always has been the nature of sport.
The new fixture list makes sense for Counties, for fans and for club players and administrators on whom the games are based. It might not be so easy for those involved and it will be worth watching out for smoke signals from that group, and through the media, over the coming weeks.
Let’s just hope that the weather is kind.
Image Credit: James Crombie, Inpho Photography