Saturday 23 September 2017

Martin Breheny: Pay-for-play debate makes Friday nights a non-runner

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Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

A crowd of 2,465 attended the Carlow v Laois football qualifier in 2012, whereas 4,602 turned out for a similar fixture last June. The only obvious reason for the 87pc increase lay in the timing of the games – Saturday night in 2012, Friday night this year.

Whether the novelty value of a first Friday night championship clash was the sole reason for the crowd surge in Dr Cullen Park in June is uncertain but, either way, it was an impressive increase.

Inevitably, it fuelled interest in the debate on whether the GAA should play more inter-county games on Friday nights.

Croke Park's fixture-makers proposed playing the Dublin v Kildare NFL game on a Friday next March, while the Leinster Council tried a similar move with the Longford-Offaly Leinster SF clash in May.

Both Kildare and Offaly refused, citing time and travel pressures on players and spectators. Neither Croke Park nor the Leinster Council could proceed any further, since Friday evening games can only work if counties agree.

It's a setback for those who believe that spreading the senior inter-county programme, albeit in a limited way, beyond Saturday/ Sunday would be hugely beneficial from a promotional viewpoint.

Of course, there's a broader dimension to all of this. Counties could, in time, probably be persuaded to engage in some Friday action. However, the far more difficult issue centres on whether players would be compensated for taking time off work on Fridays, which would certainly be required for championship games.

GAA rules prevents that, on the basis that it amounts to pay-for-play, and judging by the hardline reaction of the three presidential candidates, there will be no change of policy any time soon.

While the compensation elephant remains in the room, it's unlikely we'll see many Friday games over the next five years at least. Unfortunately, all the signs are that it will remain an untapped source of promotional gain for the GAA.

Irish Independent

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