Tuesday 21 November 2017

Counties now have no excuse for poor fixture plans - Duffy

Paraic Duffy admits the new calendar won’t suit every county. Photo: Sportsfile
Paraic Duffy admits the new calendar won’t suit every county. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Usually, the announcement of the following year's master fixture list wouldn't require a media briefing, but the plan for 2018 is different.

It essentially brings together all the significant and not so significant changes passed by the GAA in recent years which has effectively streamlined the inter-county season to a more defined and tighter time-frame and, in turn, frees up more time for club activity.

While GAA chiefs warned it could take time for the full effects of these changes to become apparent, they declared themselves pleased with what they produced.

"I'm very happy with it," director general Páraic Duffy stated afterwards.

"I think they've done a really good job. I think it's a very difficult task and they've managed to achieve the key goals and the biggest one is to get a better balance between club fixtures and county fixtures. It creates a template whereby clubs can put together a very good programme of games for club players.

Majority

"It won't suit every county maybe but it will suit the vast majority and there really is no excuse for counties not to put together a decent programme of games based on what has been unveiled today."

There are a number of eye-catching changes, some of which are sure to ship criticism.

The hurling league final will be played on a Saturday night even though some in the hurling fraternity have already expressed their reservations about playing under lights.

There is big change on the horizon in championship hurling too, where the Leinster and Munster finals will have to share the billing on Sunday, July 1.

Previously, such high-profile games were kept apart to maximise exposure for the sport.

However, the GAA justified the move by pointing to the huge jump in the number of high-profile games in hurling in 2018.

Football also sees significant change with the Munster SFC final to be played on a Saturday night next year due to a clash with the final round of the Munster hurling championships.

The changes also see the GAA effectively 'give up' September, a month it dominated with the staging of the football and hurling finals.

"That point was raised several times and without a doubt of course that's a concern for the association that you are conceding a certain amount of the sports territory if you like in September," head of games Feargal McGill agreed.

"But again the idea to bring the All-Ireland forward didn't arrive overnight. It came after a lot of discussion and that was one of the huge arguments against it but at the end of the day we need to help the club game and that's why we have taken the decision.

"It's not a decision anyone would take lightly but it's one on balance that Congress felt had to be taken."

Such changes, the GAA argued, were necessary to make room for a more defined club season.

April is effectively entirely free for club activity with the exception of the Division 1 and 2 football finals.

Duffy stressed that counties will still be left to run their own affairs while it was also pointed out that involvement in the championship will end much quicker.

The new system will see 25 counties finished in the football championship by mid-July, compared to just 16 in 2016.

Numbers still active in hurling will remain largely similar due to the change in structure of the championship.

While there are sweeping changes on the cards for next year, McGill warned that there could be some teething problems as the various units of the association get up to speed with the new schedule.

"You'll never have it fully finished, to be honest," McGill said.

"This year, to be fair, we are going into the dark a bit with this fixture schedule.

"I have no doubt in the course of the next 12 months there will be certain things in it that will work and work very well that we didn't expect to work well. And there'll be others things that we thought were going to work really well but won't work as well.

"When we sit down next September to review it we will start making the tweaks and collate whatever feedback we get in that period.

"You could never say any fixtures plan is the finished article but we'll evaluate this."

What's going to change?

January start

The leagues will start at the end of January, meaning there will be four 'double' weekends where a round of the hurling and football leagues will be played simultaneously.

Different league

The hurling league final will be played on a Saturday night (March 24) to avoid a clash with the final round of the football leagues the following day. The GAA also plan to scrap the NHL quarter-finals and go straight to semi-finals which will be populated by the top three teams from Division 1A and the top team in 1B.

Saturday night lights

The Munster football final will also take place on a Saturday night (June 23) to avoid a clash with the final round of the Munster SHC that is set to be concluded the following day. The move to Saturday night will be trialled on a three-year experimental rota with Ulster and Leinster.

Hurling extravaganza

The Leinster and Munster hurling finals will be played on the same Sunday (July 1) for the first time.

'Club only' months

The months of April and September will be effectively entirely free of inter-county action. In total the number of 'club only' weekends will jump from 15 in 2016 to 24 next year.

Calendar

Despite the streamlining of the season, the idea of concluding all GAA action inside the calendar year is parked for the short term at least. Staging more games on a Friday night is also off the agenda.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport