Wednesday 21 March 2018

Is Friday night football really good for the GAA?

The Dublin team run out for a night time league game at Croke Park. The National League may be the ideal competition to trial Friday night games, when the stakes are not as high
The Dublin team run out for a night time league game at Croke Park. The National League may be the ideal competition to trial Friday night games, when the stakes are not as high

Cliona Foley and Colm Keys

Yes says Cliona Foley

'Nothing beats being there!' That's the GAA's current championship slogan, but a strong ADBF lobby (Any day But Friday) emerged once they announced a historic championship fixture.

Yes, its introduction has been typically cack-handed, but Friday night games are not a bad idea.

Telling Carlow and Laois (without any prior consultation) that their upcoming qualifier will take place next Friday evening at 7.45 gave neither players nor management adequate notice and immediately got their backs up.

A 7.45 throw-in at a venue without floodlights is none too clever either, if the weather doesn't play ball. Admitting that this is a 'test case' was equally unwise.

If the GAA wants guinea pigs, they should have chosen a match with far less at stake.

But it's not like they're asking some Palestinians to traverse Israel for an evening fixture in Jordan. This match was chosen because it involves neighbours whose football border is particularly tightly shared. Friday night games would mean players taking at least a half-day off work or more if they've a distance to travel.

"Financial compensation," was the immediate cry. But, hold on. In the current climate, surely some players are working six days a week and are similarly inconvenienced by Saturday matches?

County teams also inevitably include a quota of players who have careers where doing overtime or particular shifts influences their salaries and promotion opportunities and who privately confess that playing inter-county 'costs' them.

So, some players are already out of pocket or having to beg for time off work no matter what day you fix matches. Residential training camps have also proliferated in the past decade.

Donegal footballers spent five days training in the midlands before this summer's Ulster SFC.

In today's escalated training environment some managers occasionally ask players to take time off work or use up some of their holidays, for training purposes, but this hasn't prompted mass complaint.

Why, then, is a rare Friday night game such an intolerable inconvenience? County teams already play challenges midweek and the pre-season provincial competitions (O'Byrne Cup, etc) are often played on weeknights, including Fridays.

With waning interest in the qualifiers and most people time and cash-poor these days, the GAA figures a Friday night derby might be more profitable and popular.

They've seen Leinster rugby's Friday night boom, and seen the success of Saturday night league and championship games – once an equally radical suggestion – in their own arena.

They certainly misjudged the timing of this, but if protagonists were agreeable the idea is feasible. Playing the occasional Friday night game could benefit players as well as the GAA's grassroots by giving a bigger window to club games. Its introduction was seriously ham-fisted, but 'Friday Night Lights' might actually be more attractive than many imagine.

No says Colm Keys

After dipping their toes into the waters of Friday night championship football for the first time by fixing Carlow and Laois for Dr Cullen Park next week and gauging the subsequent reaction, it's unlikely that the Central Competition Controls Committee will even shoot a glance at the same waters in the short to mid-term future, never mind project a foot in the same direction.

Why? Because it doesn't have to. And there is no guarantee that Friday night action will be the success so many presume it will be.

But the issue of compensation for players for taking the time off work to prepare properly – one of the fears behind the scuppering of the previous attempt to host Dublin and Mayo in the league on a Friday night more than two years ago – is the main reason why this slot won't have a lifespan beyond this meeting at Dr Cullen Park.

Broadly speaking there is nothing wrong with extending the window for playing matches to Friday nights.

By stretching the fixture list over a given weekend to incorporate an extra night, the promotional benefits are obvious, once the pairings are right. But compensation is at the core of any future shift to Friday night football or hurling. And that's where it becomes unworkable.

Even if their job and proximity to the venue allow for it, it's hardly fair to players to knock off work at 4.0 or even 5.0 to prepare for a game three or four hours later.

The arguments put forward that players take time off to go on week-long training camps and play midweek challenge games are not comparable.

Players are given plenty of notice for training camps and how can we be certain that players are not compensated for their time off anyway? We can't.

Compensating players for taking time off is almost unavoidable, but it is not a door the GAA want to push open because of the potential precedent being set.

What's a reasonable level of compensation? Would it be standardised? Would those outside the official squad expect to receive it? Is Friday night worth a potential bill of maybe €8,000 to €10,000?

The history of the GAA taking matches away from their regular slots is not great. In 2010, a Bank Holiday Monday Clare v Waterford fixture attracted only 11,000 people.

Granted, the following two Munster championship meetings between the sides on Sunday afternoons attracted just 1,000 more, but it's still a 10pc rise on a fixture that has become familiar.

The GAA have dispensed with All-Ireland quarter-finals on Bank Holiday Mondays in August and league hurling finals in May, another indication that the traditional slots are preferable.

Friday night is a nice idea which theoretically could work. But the only thing it guarantees in the future is conflict over compensation and debate over amateur status.


Irish Independent

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