Thursday 19 April 2018

Martin Breheny: August All-Ireland finals would be massive own-goal

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

DUBLIN's public musing over whether to frame a proposal calling for the All-Ireland senior hurling and football finals to be played in August might be seen as no more than giddy kite-flying at a time when the county is still in orbit after the footballers' triumph last month.

It shouldn't. There's support for the idea in other counties also and -- quite probably -- in the GAA's power corridors too.

The theory goes like this: finish the All-Ireland championships in August and leave the last four months of the year for club action.

That way, ordinary club players, many of whom are left idle for long stretches throughout the summer, won't be facing the hectic programme which usually applies in the race to complete county championships at this time of year.

At face value it's a grand idea but, in reality, it would be seriously damaging to the GAA.

So much so that, if it were implemented, rival sporting organisations would surely be amazed by the GAA's foot-shooting exercise.

Closing off the All-Ireland campaigns by the last Sunday in August reduces the GAA's mainline promotion season by a month and since they already lock out dozens of inter-county players for over six months anyway (late June until early January) a further erosion of the season would be pure madness.

With soccer and rugby running on a virtual year-round basis (there's always something happening in some part of the world), the GAA has to compete strenuously for media exposure in order to promote its games and its image.

The All-Ireland championships are the main events in that vital function, building throughout to the summer towards the massive climax generated by the two senior finals.

All-Ireland final Sundays in September are iconic brands and should not be sacrificed just because some counties can't streamline their club championships.

Dublin's local schedule ran askew amid the extended run by five of their county teams in all grades in both codes this summer, leaving them facing the possibility of not being represented in the Leinster senior club championships.

Granted, it was a most unusual year for Dublin, who had four teams in All-Ireland finals and another in the semi-final.

It didn't make for a smooth club programme but it must be said that Dublin have had their problems in years when they didn't reach as many All-Ireland finals.

Besides, how come the likes of Cork, who have dual issues like Dublin, manage to complete their club programmes on schedule?

The solution to Dublin's problem rests with themselves, not in bringing forward All-Ireland finals.

Worryingly for those who believe that the GAA don't seem to grasp the need to maximise promotion more than ever, proposals to bring forward the All-Ireland finals have come on the agenda before.

Clare put the idea to Congress on a few occasions over the past decade, the most recent being just two years ago.

Leitrim and Tyrone had similar motions before the 2009 Congress and, while they were defeated, it was against a background where you felt that persistence could pay off in the long run.

Usually, there is no debate on the issue until various motions trickle onto the Congress agenda but Dublin's high-profile advocacy for change within days of winning the football final may galvanise others to make a concerted effort to increase support for the idea during the upcoming county convention season.

It would still have to get through Congress next April (and couldn't come into effect until 2013) but there's now a real danger that September may not remain as All-Ireland final month.

Can you hear soccer and rugby chiefs chuckling? And why not?

Ironically, it was golf that led to a change of date for the All-Ireland football final, which was brought forward from the fourth to the third Sunday in September to avoid a clash with the Ryder Cup at The K Club in 2006.

The new date was deemed a success by the GAA and has been retained since then.

Prior to that, the football finals had alternated between the third and fourth Sundays in September over various eras. However, it now seems that there's growing support for playing both finals in August.

If that were to be done for a well thought out, logical reason which would help Gaelic games, there would be no problem.

However, that's not the case. Instead, the proposal arises because of poor housekeeping in some counties.

All-Ireland finals aren't club players' biggest enemies but they are being portrayed that way amid the calls for earlier dates.

Think carefully, folks, before discarding September's glorious beauty on the spurious theory that it will improve the lot of the club player.

It won't but good local organisation will.

Irish Independent

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