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Midweek football here to stay says Leinster's Skelly

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Leinster Council chairman Martin Skelly. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Leinster Council chairman Martin Skelly. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Leinster Council chairman Martin Skelly. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

MIDWEEK inter-county fixtures are here to stay, according to Leinster Council chairman Martin Skelly, who has reiterated his desire for the various GAA stakeholders to embrace Friday night football as well.

Tonight marks the second year in which a full round of the O'Byrne Cup will be staged on a Wednesday evening. The experiment was launched last January when the pre-season tournament switched to an initial league format, and Skelly confirmed they were "very happy" with how last year panned out.

This move followed Leinster's earlier decision, dating back to 2011, to run off its U21 football championship exclusively on Wednesday nights.

Skelly believes that looking beyond the narrow constraints of weekend action is vital if the problem of fixture pile-ups is to be eradicated.

"I would be encouraging counties to have at least one ground where they can provide an all-weather, sand-based surface with floodlit facilities," he told the Herald.

"I believe if we are to be serious about doing anything to alleviate the logjam of fixtures, this has to the way forward for the association.

"We have to encourage counties, as we are already encouraging clubs, to finish out competitions under lights."

NIGHTS

The Leinster chief has been a long-time advocate of using Friday nights to free up such logjams, specifically through the staging of appropriate inter-county senior games involving neighbouring counties.

One such game came to pass last summer – the SFC qualifier between Carlow and Laois – despite a series of angry player 'tweets' when the move was first announced.

However, a similar Leinster CCC initiative to play this year's provincial SFC opener between Skelly's home county of Longford and Offaly on a Friday night in May was effectively killed off by Faithful County opposition.

Skelly was "disappointed" that agreement couldn't be reached but added: "Obviously, with the sensitivities, we would be looking for the co-operation of both counties."

Clearly, one of the biggest impediments to Friday football is the vexed issue of whether players should be asked to play on a normal working day or, more pertinently, whether they should be financially reimbursed for doing so.

Skelly conceded that, to advance the cause, they must convince two different elements – county boards and what he termed "player welfare bodies". He hoped they will "start to see the light themselves, that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages."

But the relative dearth of floodlit facilities in Leinster is another potential impediment. Of the 12 counties in the province only Dublin, Meath and Laois have floodlights at their main county grounds.


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