The many ramifications of Covid-19 have convinced Clare GAA chiefs to steer clear of round-robin groups this summer.
Instead, the Banner county board has introduced a novel format that will guarantee every club hurler and footballer a minimum of two championship matches – but there will be no second chance for any team beaten after the opening round.
And one of several factors is the fear that if a future Covid-19 outbreak forced a round-robin match to be scratched, this could prove a logistical nightmare in the event that scoring difference was required.
The 16-team Clare SHC starts this weekend with eight first round matches spread over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. No one faces immediate elimination: the eight winners will be drawn against the eight losers in a straight knockout second round, from which eight quarter-finalists will emerge.
With 12 senior football outfits, the Clare SFC format is more complicated. Six first round winners advance to a second round which will then produce three semi-finalists.
Meanwhile, six first round losers go into a 'back door', yielding three winners. One of these will get a bye and face the winner of the other two, from which will emerge the fourth semi-finalist.
"In the circumstances, with the coronavirus and the whole lot, we were hoping to run the championship over a shorter period of time," explained Clare chairman Joe Cooney.
"With dual players and ‘isolated’ players (those who play football for one club and hurling for another) it was probably going to take us 12 to 14 weeks to run it the way we used to always run it. That’s why we have this system put in place."
Cooney confirmed that scoring difference complications if matches had to be called off "was a concern", coupled with the possibility of dead-rubbers. More generally he remains worried about a second wave of the coronavirus.
"I've a serious concern about it," the chairman said. "We have seen building sites being closed down in Dublin, and we also have a number of players from our county actually working in Dublin."
While hopeful that Clare will complete its club programme, he accepted "that risk is there" and that the health of players, supporters, management and club officers was "vitally important".
There will be no relegation in Clare this year, because of the constricted circumstances, but junior and intermediate champions will be promoted.
Cooney insisted that clubs are "happy with the format."
Clare aim to complete both senior championships by mid to late September, anxious to give hurling boss Brian Lohan and football counterpart Colm Collins as much leeway as possible.
"We felt if we went the extra rounds, we’d be cutting across them," Cooney explained.
"If we did go down the round-robin, we probably wouldn’t have the championship finished before the National Football League starts up (in mid-October) and Colm Collins’ men have two vital games in that."
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