Tuesday 17 September 2019

Donnchadh Boyle: 'Dr Crokes's conundrum perfectly illustrates fixtures nightmare facing clubs'


Dublin's Eoghan O'Donnell. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin's Eoghan O'Donnell. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

This weekend, the GAA's Central Council will gather for a meeting that will have major significance.

Points will be debated and calls will be made. At the end of it all the main decisions will concern Gaelic football and how it will look in the future.

A game that has gone largely untouched since the foundation of the association could undergo a major overhaul in playing rules and the structure of the championship, with the introduction of a second tier on the cards.

They'll get plenty of work done over the course of the day where they'll make big decisions that will shape the future of the game.

Whether football will see significant change for next year's league will likely grab all the headlines.

However, there is perhaps an even bigger issue at hand. Football, at county level at least, produced a miserable summer but the fixtures issue might be even more pressing.

Roscommon will bring a motion asking that Central Council "establishes a select committee to conduct an overall review of the National Games Programme in accordance with its powers under rule 3.42 (a) as the Supreme Governing body between Congresses."

The motion adds that "this committee should consist of appropriately-qualified people from both within and outside the GAA and should have a strong independent chair."

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The GAA have taken some big decisions around the calendar. April was cleared and September was ceded in a bid to give the club players a clearer picture of what their year would look like.

However, the lot of the club player has seen little improvement.

There is growing discontent that, in time, could turn into disengagement.

It's hardly the GAA's fault. They made the space in the calendar but in many cases it hasn't been used but those decisions taken at a central level have had a knock-on effect too.

Given the earlier start to the league, we're now only weeks away from the start of pre-season competitions.

What was the close season is now the new season.

For example, Dublin will start life under Mattie Kenny in a little over a fortnight for December hurling.

As Dublin defender Eoghan O'Donnell pointed out, fixture-makers have lopped off a few weeks off the end of the season but stuck it on at the other end.

"Walsh Cup hurling in December, yeah! That's one that doesn't make sense to me," O'Donnell said.

"They shortened the year come summertime and just added on to it at the end of the winter. It's a bizarre one for me, I don't understand it.

"I don't think anyone enjoys playing hurling in winter or December, it doesn't give credit to the competition it could be. So for me, that's a bizarre one and I just don't understand it to be honest."

And that's the issue for the GAA. At a central level they have tried to shorten the season and bring more clarity only for a provincial body to swim against the tide of what they are trying to achieve.

It feels like decision after decision has been made, piling well-meaning new rule on top of new rule, leading to the farcical situation where the Kildare footballers were due to start their 2019 season on the day their training ban expired.

There was another example of the issue around fixtures this week when it emerged that should Kerry champions Dr Crokes keep winning, they'll face a hectic December.

They could play in the opening three weekends of December and depending on decisions made, they could be playing over Christmas too.

And that's where Roscommon's motion comes into play. The Club Players Association (CPA) have long called for a blank-canvas approach to fixture-making.

As it stands, there is one central body, four provincial councils and 32 county boards making decisions around fixtures that all have a direct or indirect effect on one another. There's no easy solution but there are obvious inefficiencies.

It remains to be seen how much influence the CPA can exert on decision-making in the GAA.

At last year's Congress, they brought a motion asking for transparency in the voting system and it was roundly beaten, with 83pc coming out against the motion.

Perhaps Central Council will give their proposal a fairer hearing.

All of the focus will likely be on what impact this weekend's meeting will have on football.

As far as fixtures are concerned, a clean slate may be precisely what's required.

Irish Independent

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