Martin Breheny: Ulster says 'No' to bigger picture
Croke Park powerless as Cavan-Tyrone replay causes Qualifier chaos
Published 22/06/2016 | 02:30
Turlough O'Brien and his Carlow squad left Netwatch Cullen Park in high spirits on Saturday evening. They had beaten Wicklow in a first-round Qualifier and while that might not register as a notable achievement in more fertile football fields, it felt pretty good in Carlow.
It was only their fifth win in the 16 seasons the Qualifiers have been in place, and it left them looking forward to another outing on July 2, a Round 2A date put in place by the Croke Park fixture-makers as far back as last October.
All changed for Carlow on Monday morning. They were drawn against Cavan or Tyrone, but since the Ulster semi-final replay won't take place until July 3, Carlow will be left idle on the weekend after next.
Instead, they will have to wait until the following weekend for their next game. That might look like no big deal but when you look at the reason for the delay, it shows up a glaring anomaly in the GAA's command-and-control mechanisms.
For reasons that can have no basis in logic, Ulster opted to delay the Cavan-Tyrone replay for two weeks, instead of re-fixing it for next Sunday.
Now, if this were an issue for Ulster only, it wouldn't matter a whole lot but that's not the case. Instead, the national fixtures calendar has been disrupted, despite being in place for the past eight months.
You might expect that Croke Park, which represents Central Council, would be empowered to tell Ulster that deferring a replay for two weeks wasn't on, since it impacted on the Qualifiers. But Croke Park is utterly powerless in this regard. Provincial Councils are allowed to run their championships as they see fit, except of course when it comes to introducing a round-robin start to the SFC.
Leinster are keen on that idea but have been blocked by Congress, on the basis that it would disrupt club fixtures in the counties involved.
Leinster are adamant the impact would be minimal but their proposal was still shot down.
Yet, when something that influences the Qualifier dates emerges because of an unsustainable approach to a replay - as with Ulster this week - the GAA centrally is powerless to intervene.
Of course if director-general Paraic Duffy had his way there would be no replays in any Championship games.
He suggested that last November but by the time his proposal got to Congress in February it was amended to all games except provincial and All-Ireland finals.
Central Council backed that idea but while their motion was passed on 58-42pc vote by Congress, it fell short of the required two-thirds majority. Now there's democracy for you.
Four months later, Ulster decides to leave a two-week gap between a draw and replay, with a knock-on impact on the qualifiers. And what happens if Cavan v Tyrone finishes level after extra-time on Sunday week?
The replay would go back to July 9, the date when Carlow are now due to play the losers. In which case, that game would have to put back to July 16, despite the fact that 3A games are due to be played on July 9. Basically, another Cavan-Tyrone draw would cause chaos in the Qualifiers.
It's ridiculous that one drawn game should be allowed to interfere with the national fixtures programme, but then a system which vests so much power in provincial councils creates a climate for that.
It doesn't exactly augur well for a broader streamlining of fixtures at a time when clubs everywhere are seething in frustration over the haphazard nature of their schedules.
Proper governance demands that provincial councils not be allowed to do anything that disrupts the national scene, in which case Croke Park would have the authority to instruct Ulster to replay Cavan-Tyrone next weekend.
Of course, the chances of that change being applied are minimal as it would require Congress approval, an unlikely development since provincial councils are notoriously hostile to any attempt to dilute their powers.
Replays had nothing to do with the six-day turnaround faced by Louth between their Leinster exit and the Qualifier tie with Derry last Saturday.
They had 29 days between the Leinster first round and quarter-final, followed by six days to recover from losing to Meath.
It was downright unfair and absolutely unnecessary.