Thursday 29 September 2016

Campaign for major change in GAA fixture structures begins today

Published 14/11/2015 | 02:30

Paraic Duffy will deliver his message to the GAA's Central Council today
Paraic Duffy will deliver his message to the GAA's Central Council today

GAA director-general Páraic Duffy will today tell the GAA's Central Council in stark terms that talking time is over on the controversial issue of player burnout and a chaotic fixtures schedule.

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His message will be delivered in more diplomatic terms but the essence remains the same - action must replace words.

"If we want to provide our club players with a fair and meaningful schedule of fixtures, we can no longer simply talk about addressing it. The time has come to take decisive action," he wrote in the introduction to his suite of corrective measures.

His menu for change will be considered by Central Council, but no decisions will be taken until the New Year. In the meantime, briefings will be held at provincial level to tease out the implications of the proposals, with the ultimate outcome decided by Congress in February. The following are the main proposals, which Central Council will reflect on today, with views on their merit.

MINOR FOOTBALL & HURLING

Launched in the late 1920s for players aged 18 and under, it's proposed to amend the age limit to under 17 from 2018 on. A major consideration behind the lower age limit is that U-18 coincides with Leaving Cert year for most students, putting them under enormous pressure at an important time in their lives.

Should it happen? Yes. There's something about the competition as it stands that wouldn't be replicated at U-17 level but the age adjustment has merit and is worth trying.

U-21 FOOTBALL

It faces the axe under the Duffy plan. Introduced in 1964 as a bridge between minor and senior, it has been a hugely popular competition, won by 16 counties. Duffy contends that since research on burnout shows that it's most prevalent in players aged between 18 and 21 years, scrapping U-21 would ease the pressure.

Should it happen? No. Burnout is not being caused by too many games but by too much training, arising from players answering to several different managers. If the managers put the players first, which is their absolute responsibility, there's no reason why the U-21 grade should not be continued.

Scrapping U-21 means that there's no bridge between U-17 and senior, which is unhelpful for player development. There's no proposal to amend the third-level programme, which includes playing in pre-season inter-county competitions in January.

Colleges use those competitions to prepare for the Sigerson Cup but why should the senior inter-county grade be used as a warm-up for student championships? Inter-county is asked to facilitate colleges, the reward for which is the proposed scrapping of the U-21 championships, which are more beneficial to the county scene than Sigerson.

U-21 HURLING

There's no proposal to scrap it on the basis that, unlike football where 31 counties compete, hurling's top tier features a relatively small number of counties. However, Duffy wants the All-Ireland final played before the senior and minor and finals, rather than the week after, as is the case at present.

Should it happen? Yes. It's a relatively small change.

EARLIER ALL-IRELAND SENIOR FINALS

The plan is to bring them forward by two weeks (hurling on the second last Sunday in August, football on the first Sunday in September). That would open up two extra weeks for club activity.

Should it happen? No. It might look like a relatively small change but it pares two important weeks off the GAA's promotional calendar, at a time when rugby and soccer are powering up. If implemented, it will leave the competitive inter-county season blank for five months, which is too long.

Besides, there are regular examples of counties which exit the championship relatively early finishing their championships late. Changing the date of the All-Ireland finals won't correct that.

EXTRA-TIME IN ALL CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES

Duffy's proposal won't be popular with the financial departments but he points to the disruptions caused by replays.

Should it happen? Yes, but with one big condition - that it doesn't apply to All-Ireland finals. Extra-time makes sense in the provinces. It actually applied for a few seasons, but was scrapped in 2010.

Extra-time has always applied in All-Ireland quarter-finals and there's no reason why it couldn't be extended to semi-finals.

Finals are different and should be replayed. Apart from the financial boost there's also the added promotional dimension. However, the replay should take place on the Saturday after the drawn game, rather than having a three-week wait as happened in the 2012-'13-'14 hurling replays.

ALL-IRELAND JUNIOR FOOTBALLl AND INTERMEDIATE HURLING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Duffy wants them scrapped.

Should it happen? Yes.

SCRAP ALLIANZ FL DIVISION 1 SEMI-FINALS

It would free up one extra weekend. The final was played off between the top two in Division 1 in 2008-'11 before the semi-finals were reintroduced in 2012.

Should it happen? Yes. Its positive impact on the club scene will be minimal but it hardly makes sense that after 28 games, four of eight teams can still win the title.

COMPLETE the ALL-IRELAND CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP BY DECEMBER

The rationale behind it is that (a) players will have more rest time (b) counties can plan fixtures on a more logical basis (c) county championships will have to be completed earlier than at present (d) it will reduce fixture congestion.

Should it happen? Yes. The senior finals are a big attraction in Croke Park on St Patrick's Day but that's not sufficient reason to have provincial winners training right through winter. Besides, it should be possible to find an alternative attraction for St Patrick's Day.

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