The GAA published its master fixture plan for 2018 yesterday. It takes into account the demand for more time devoted to club fixtures and creates, as a result, a tighter timetable for the key inter county Championship games of high summer.
The key number to jump out from the new fixtures is that there will be 25 weekends next year free from inter county obligations.
This is up from only 16 in 2017 and will give more time to each of the counties and provinces to organise their own club leagues and championships.
The months of April and September will effectively be given back to the clubs, satisfying a strong demand from the grassroots of the sport for more games at better times of the year.
The downside is a squeeze on the highest profile games with some previously stand out games like the Leinster and Munster Senior Hurling Finalks now doubling up on the same weekend.
More intensity for those who like to follow every game, more of a focus for those who dip in and out. There is never a perfect solution but with change demanded change has been delivered and there is a sense of excitement rather than familiarity in how this will all work out.
It will require a strong communication plan at national regional and county level. Outside of the clubs involved it is sometimes a mystery for others as to the scheduling of games with times and locations often left to just a week out.
In an ever busy life this hardly encourages the greatest buy in and should be stepped up.
The broadcasters have the biggest reach and will help the sport and themselves by an uplift in the cross media promotion they do of the marquee games they will have access to.
The biggest change is no surprise but giving up those Sundays in September will be the toughest message to get a sport and a nation wedded to tradition over the line with.
There will be a loss of build up in schools of the competing counties and a likely even greater emphasis on competing sports like the start of the Premier League in England.
It will be an opportunity for the SSE Airtricity League to boost its own profile at a key time of the year and for the Guinness PRO14 to hit the ground running harder and faster.
It will also present the Camogie and Ladies Football Finals with more space to expand their own growth as evidenced by this year’s record attendance of 46,000 at the Dublin Vs Mayo Ladies Football Final.
Of course it could also lead to the club game reaching beyond the ‘parish’ and becoming a more important element of the wider GAA calendar.
Nothing is certain in a time of change but this is something which needed to happen to retain the balance between club and county, grassroots and treetops of the sport.
How it works in practice will be down to a number of factors from communication to marketing, a willingness to accept change and a willingness of fans to continue their support of the biggest sporting show in town.
The GAA produced a short Question and Answer document around some of the key changes yesterday which we reproduce here for you:
Why are both Hurling and Football starting on January 28th?
Our guiding principle in developing the 2018 Master Fixtures plan was to ensure that as much of April as possible could be kept free for clubs. To that end, there are more “double” weekends in the league than before (4 in total) and the leagues are starting in the last weekend in January (normally, the football league would start on the first week in February; the hurling on the 2nd week).
Why is Hurling League final scheduled for a Saturday?
Given the need to complete the leagues by the start of April (and to preserve that Month for clubs), the last round of the football league and the Hurling league final required to be scheduled on the same weekend. C.C.C.C felt that it would be wrong to schedule both on the same day (not to mention the possibilities of a Cork or a Dublin or a Galway being in the Hurling final and involved in a big football game on the same day) – to that end, it was obvious that one of either the final round of the football league or the Hurling Final needed to be on the Saturday. Given the availability of suitable venues with floodlights in the Southern half of the Country, it was felt that it was the right time to trial the playing of the Hurling League final on a Saturday evening. We feel there is a terrific marketing opportunity there for the playing of a national senior final under floodlights.
It should be noted that if Tipperary and Kilkenny were to meet in the Allianz Hurling League final, that game would take place in Nowlan Park (due to an arrangement between the two Counties). In that scenario, the Hurling League final would take place on the Sunday.
Why is the Munster Football Final on a Saturday night?
The final round of the Munster Hurling Championship was scheduled for the day on which we had initially planned to play the Munster Football Final. Rather than move the Munster Hurling games to a Saturday, it was felt that it was a good time to experiment with a Provincial Final on a Saturday night. It again offers a good promotional and marketing opportunity. It will be reviewed next year but this is envisioned as being part of a 3 year experimental rota with Leinster and Ulster, whereby if required one of those provinces would also look at playing a Provincial Football final on a Saturday night in the coming years.
Why are the Leinster and Munster Hurling Finals on the same day?
In order to avoid a “6 day turnaround” in the football championship, the necessity of playing the Munster and Leinster Hurling finals on the same day had to be considered. This had never been done before as C.C.C.C and the provinces had always sought to maximise our opportunities to promote hurling in the context of a championship (before the recent changes agreed) that had very few high profile games in the early part of the season. However, given the huge number of high profile hurling games that will be staged in the provinces in 2018, we do not see the same issues arising as might have in previous years had such a proposal been floated.
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