Thursday 20 September 2018

Comment: The weather gods have spoken - it's time for the GAA to heed them

The weather gods have spoken in recent weeks, making it clear that trying to jam so many games and competitions into a short period at the riskiest time of year weather-wise is foolhardy. Photo: Sportsfile
The weather gods have spoken in recent weeks, making it clear that trying to jam so many games and competitions into a short period at the riskiest time of year weather-wise is foolhardy. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It's not the fault of the Central Competitions Control Committee that the first and third weekends in March opted for Siberian rather than spring weather, but they are the ones facing the fallout as they try to make up for lost time.

It wasn't even their doing to squeeze so many fixtures into the first three months of the year.

They were acting on instructions from higher powers, who wanted April left free of all inter-county activity except for the Division 1 and 2 football finals on the first Sunday.

The fixtures wipe-out two weeks ago wrecked that plan, forcing the Division 4 final to be played on the first weekend in April.

The Division 1 hurling final was also put back by a week to Saturday, March 31, a target which will now be missed, following this weekend's disruption to the quarter-finals.

The final will go ahead on the first weekend in April, which, in theory at least, still leaves three weekends for club activity.

The reality could be different, however, as inter-county team managers agitate to have as much time as possible with squads ahead of the provincial campaigns which start earlier than usual this year.

That's a side issue to the main consideration, which centres on the folly of trying to fit pre-season tournaments and the Allianz Leagues into the first three months.

All of the pre-season tournaments were disrupted, with the O'Byrne Cup the worst affected. The final between Meath and Westmeath is still to be played.

Both of the National Leagues have had scheduling problems, with hurling hit especially badly.

The CCCC review all competitions after they are completed and, presumably, their findings for this year's leagues will show that they were given a ridiculously short time scale to play so many games. Central Council have to note what has happened and ensure it is not repeated.

Pointing out that there was something freakish about having such bad weather over two weekends in March and hoping it won't happen again is not acceptable.

So what can be done? The obvious solution is to scrap the 'free April' plan and run the leagues up until the middle of the month. However, if the GAA insist on keeping April free of inter-county action, then other options have to be explored.

Two come to mind. One: reduce the number of games in the leagues. Two: Start the leagues in the autumn, as was case up to the 1990s in hurling and early into the new Millennium in football.

Reducing the numbers in each division in football would facilitate a quicker programme. Each of the four divisions has eight teams, thus requiring seven weekends to complete them and provide the eight finalists.

If the 32 counties were re-grouped into five divisions, with the top two having seven teams each and the other three having six, it would leave some leeway for lost weekends.

It would cut the number of guaranteed games per county to six in Divisions 1 and 2 and to five in the other three groups and while that's not ideal, it would certainly make life easier for the fixture-makers.

Starting the leagues in autumn is probably the most logical solution of all, but has little chance of being accepted because counties fear it would add to costs.

Also, any suggestion of having inter-county activity after the All-Ireland finals would inevitably raise the 'what about the clubs' cry?

There's no reason why counties cannot have their senior championships completed by the middle of October, after which only one club per county has provincial commitments. Even then, the numbers reduce very quickly.

Why not start the leagues on the last weekend of October and run off three or four rounds before the end of November?

That, in turn, would ease the pressure in the early months of the next year. Indeed, it wouldn't be necessary to resume the leagues until mid-February.

The weather is almost always much more benign in late October/ November than in the early part of new year so games would be played in better conditions than has been the case over the last two months.

More importantly, it would eradicate the serious overcrowding that currently prevails during the first three months, which also caters for third-level competitions.

The weather gods have spoken in recent weeks, making it clear that trying to jam so many games and competitions into a short period at the riskiest time of year weather-wise is foolhardy.

Their unambiguous statement should not be ignored.

Irish Independent

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