Sport GAA

Monday 14 October 2019

Comment: With no sign of an easing in fixtures crisis, it's time to give control to one body


Brian Cody: Worried for the future. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Brian Cody: Worried for the future. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

By the conclusion of the bank holiday weekend, the last of the county senior finals should be completed.

There'll be a few odds and ends to be tied up but county board fixture-makers will be able to start folding up the tent for another year.

It should have been a breakthrough year for the club player. The earlier All-Ireland finals and the ring-fencing of April for club activity looked to be a massive step in the right direction. The reality has been much different. In effect little has changed.

The establishment of the CPA (Club Players' Association) was a sign that all was not well. Indeed, anyone who has been a club player at any level could have told you what the issues were.

In many counties, the experience of a club player and his fixtures boils down to watching websites on a Monday to find out if you were out the following weekend. Every plan was hostage to a fixture here or a training session there. The establishment of the CPA was essentially a statement saying people weren't willing to put up with it anymore.

The GAA made space for clubs this year but the broad consensus is that it had little impact. The month of April was used in varying ways. Some counties used the month for championship even before it was cleared, some ran off secondary tournaments. Others did take the chance to get their primary competitions up and running but some more effectively ignored the free weekends.

And with the end of the county finals coming into view, it is clear there has been little net effect. In fact, 15 county football championships are running later than in 2017.

And therein lies the problem. As a central body there is only so much the GAA can do. They can create the space and make big concessions like clearing September, a significant month for the GAA traditionally, but they can't tell counties how to run their affairs. The horses have been brought to the water but not many of them are willing to take a drink.

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Centrally, the GAA recognised that there might be a lag period between creating extra space and county boards learning how best to utilise it.

"When counties sit down with this there'll be a learning period for them as well," said the GAA's head of games Feargal McGill when the details of the new fixture calendar were released almost a year ago.

"It'll be two or three years before the real full effects of this are known. I'd love to think that this is great, that every county is rushing off saying, 'Wow brilliant, we have all this time to play with', but that's just not going to be the reality. You're dealing largely with volunteers, it takes a little bit of time for them to figure out where the good gaps are for them here."

There are a number of counties that seem to have their affairs in hand. Monaghan will play their final round of 18 senior league matches this weekend. County players have been available to their clubs for nine of those games. Monaghan ran off their county SFC a week earlier than last year despite the county team being involved in championship a week later than 2017.

However, running affairs in Monaghan is a lot more straightforward than a county like Wexford where there's a large number of dual clubs, or in a county where divisional sides also compete in the local championships.

In the meantime, concern on the ground is gathering pace. In the last few weeks, Brian Cody, who is not in the habit of commenting on something unless he saw the need, came out strongly, stating the club game and its future worry him. His former players Tommy Walsh and Michael Fennelly hold similar opinions. Lar Corbett added his voice to the campaign to improve the lot of the club player too, stating they weren't served by the current system.

Perhaps the GAA are right and we'll see a marked improvement in fixtures and how they work for players.

However, there's plenty of scepticism around that. Since its earliest days the CPA have called for the GAA to start with a blank slate when it comes to fixtures in a bid to make the club and county season fit around each other.

At it stands, 32 county boards, four provincial councils and a central body all make fixtures that operate around each other. That's 37 bodies making decisions affecting each other.

It could be time to bring that number down to one and charge one body with finding a solution to the most pressing issue facing the GAA.

Irish Independent

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