Wednesday 21 August 2019

Dick Clerkin: 'Club fixtures situation is far from perfect but CPA is wrong to label it a 'crisis''

Comment

Kernan: Active with CPA. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Kernan: Active with CPA. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

A memo that was recently circulated by the CPA pulled no punches. One part of it read: "Unfortunately, the fixtures crisis remains, and nothing has been done by GAA management to materially address the situation or achieve real change."

This was intended to stoke the fires of perceived discontent. It painted a dramatic if somewhat misguided picture of the current club fixtures situation.

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It did, however, beg a question. With the second season of the April Club month drawing to a close, what is the current state of play throughout the country? Are things really in, or close to, 'crisis' mode?

Speaking with Kieran Donaghy at the launch of the Sky GAA season in Croke Park last week, he informed me, to my shock, that his club Austin Stacks were due to play Dr Crokes in yesterday's Kerry club championship final.

To get some further insight, I contacted Kerry great Sean O'Sullivan over the weekend, who confirmed that the recent playing of the club championships in April has been deemed a success.

After the completion of the club championship this weekend, league football will take club players through the summer.

When the inter-county season finishes in early September, it's then on to the county championship made up of the larger senior clubs and divisional sides. Sounds very straightforward. No crisis in Kerry.

At a charity game in Donegal at the beginning of the month, in memory of the late Pat Shovelin, I got speaking with Aaron Kernan from Armagh, who is a current CPA executive member.

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As we togged out beside each other I picked Aaron's brains about the revised club structure in Armagh, of which I had been hearing very positive things.

Aaron went on to outline how, in Armagh, they now run their league from the beginning of April straight through to completion at the end of the summer before a championship ball is kicked. If county players are available to play, they play. If not, the games still go ahead.

The season culminates with the championship, beginning with group stages based on league standings. Now in its second year, Aaron was glowing in its praise. No crisis in Armagh. Obviously Aaron wasn't involved in writing that CPA memo.

On to my own county. Since the debate surrounding club fixtures has grown in ferocity, Monaghan has been frequently held up as one of the most progressive and innovative structures around.

Currently, we are approaching the end of a fiercely competitive five-game run of league fixtures, featuring all inter-county players.

County players will be released back to Monaghan duty after the final rounds of games on Wednesday, after which we won't see them until their inter-county season is over.

Clubs will continue to play regularly scheduled league games throughout the summer without their county players. League games with county players are worth five points, and those without them are worth two. Again, no crisis there.

Over the past few weeks I fell into similar conversations with people from Dublin, Mayo and Down. While most point towards progressive efforts being made, all is not perfect either. Dublin's fractured club structures have, until recently, been held up in stark contrast to the professionalism of their inter-county set-ups.

Concerns

Yet now they are a further example of a county utilising the April club month, with the playing of their club championship group stages over recent weeks.

However, with a largely irrelevant league competition still existing in Dublin, there are some concerns that for those clubs whose championship aspirations are over already, it will see their seasons effectively draw to a premature close. Competitively, at least.

I am certainly not suggesting that the club fixtures situation is resolved. Far from it.

The CPA seem to be short on patience. The final utterances in their recent memo signal a potential escalation in their attempts to be heard: "We will be in touch again soon to update you on next steps, including possible escalation. We ask you as a club player to get ready to stand up for your club against continued inaction."

To say "nothing has been done by GAA management" is both inaccurate and an insult to those visibly working to materially improve matters.

It is equally an insult to the indirect contributions made to date by the CPA themselves.

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