Monday 19 February 2018

Bogged down by crazy scheduling

Eamonn Sweeney

Watching Castlehaven and Stradbally strive manfully to play constructive football in last Sunday's Munster semi-final in Clonakilty while being assailed by a storm-force wind, driving rain and a pitch rendered rink-like by the conditions, it struck me that this was your classic provincial club championship day out.

And, by the time three of us were pushing the car of the lad who'd given us a lift to the game as its wheels churned and spun in the mucky grass, I had decided that this is not a good thing.

The All-Ireland club championships, not least because of the addition of intermediate and junior competitions, are a great adornment of the GAA. Yet every year the decisive provincial stages of these competitions are played in November and December in weather which means the low-scoring final is almost proverbial.

This is the result of the ludicrous system which sees club players sit idle during the summer months when they might find it pleasant to play a game and then find themselves being deluged with matches at a time of year when conditions are apt to make the whole thing degenerate into an endurance test for both them and their supporters.

Take, for example, Castlehaven's championship itinerary this season. After getting things rolling with a first-round game on May 7, they then sat out all of June and July before playing their second match on August 31. There was a quarter-final and a replay on September 16 and 22 before a county semi-final on October 20 heralded a run of five championship matches in seven weeks.

It's crazy scheduling but it's not just a Cork thing. Stradbally, who can be very proud of last Sunday's performance, had only won the Waterford football championship the previous weekend. Even allowing for the fact the final resulted in a replay, how can it take till the middle of November for Waterford to conclude a football championship? Their county football team were out as far back as June 20 and their hurlers had bitten the dust on July 29.

But let's not pick on Waterford. Most counties run their fixtures in an equally dysfunctional manner, delaying county finals so that the provincial championships are forced into the depths of winter.

Yet there seems to be very little fuss made about this situation. Club players might make up 98 per cent of the GAA's playing population but concern for their welfare sometimes seems conspicuous by its absence in the top echelons of the Association.

County boards effectively put the club season on hold in the face of county team managers demanding postponements. Games can be put off for weeks or even months to await the availability of a single player. Meanwhile, the club player resigns himself to another summer without championship action.

So, at the end of the year, the best club teams often end up slogging it out in conditions more suitable for bog snorkelling than football and hurling. Ironically, the GAA gave up playing National League games in winter years ago, the reason apparently being that you couldn't ask inter-county hurlers and footballers to play in that kind of weather.

Of course anything is good enough for the club player.

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