Eight changes that will impact the new GAA season
The provincial championship draws take place on Thursday night and while their relevance in hurling has been diluted by the new round-robin structure, a clear picture of how next season will look should become more apparent.
Already an earlier start to the leagues and a much earlier conclusion to the hurling leagues has been confirmed, allowing for a six-week window free of inter-county games that should allow some access for clubs to their players. The Masters Fixtures Plan has yet to be finalised but a new landscape is emerging. We look at the potential impact .
The end of third-level participation in pre-season
Third-level involvement in pre-season competitions looks to be at an end with earlier dates for the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups and the possibility that provincial competitions may not be finished before the commencement of the leagues.
The Fitzgibbon Cup final is being provisionally looked at for Saturday, February 11 in 2018 with the Sigerson Cup a week later, February 18.
This year the Fitzgibbon Cup finals weekend was on February 25. Both competitions are expected to break with tradition by not having Friday semi-finals as part of the weekend.
Earlier this year, Munster GAA moved on without college participation in either the Munster Hurling League or the McGrath Cup.
In addition, NUIG and GMIT are gone from next year's Connacht League, while Leinster are planning O'Byrne and Walsh Cup campaigns without third-level teams too.
Shorter provincial football competitions
The inter-county championship season is being shortened by three weeks (except 2018 to facilitate the probable visit of Pope Francis) and the main gains will be made by condensing the provincial championships.
The Connacht championship, which took nine weeks to complete in 2017, will take just six next year, with Munster wrapping up in just four weeks.
Provisionally, the Munster and Connacht finals are being pencilled in for Sunday, June 17.
Connacht commences with the New York game on May 6, Munster have their quarter-finals on May 20.
To facilitate the new landscape from 2018 onwards Ulster will break with the tradition of one game per weekend by playing quarter-finals over two weekends (Saturday/Sunday) to complete in six weeks, down from eight.
Leinster will also compress into a similar time-frame with finals for both provinces likely to be played on June 24, though Leinster are still open to the Saturday night option.
Concentration of games
The likely start date for the majority of provincial championships is Saturday, May 12/Sunday, May 13. With eight round-robin provincial hurling championship matches, on top of a Connacht football quarter-final, an Ulster football preliminary quarter-final and three Leinster preliminary quarter-finals, that's 13 headline games before three new tier-two hurling championship games are factored in.
That 16-match programme looks set to continue through three weekends in May and into June. On the same weekends, the Ring, Rackard and Meagher Cup competitions will also begin.
On the weekend of June 9 there is the prospect of 21 mainstream championship matches - eight first-round football qualifiers, two Leinster football semi-finals, eight provincial round-robin hurling games and three tier-two hurling games.
Impact on media/broadcast coverage
Because of such a concentration of games coming thick and fast in the early stages of the championship, coverage, in terms of build-up, live and post-match, may suffer. The potential for games to pass off without the coverage they deserve is there, from a newspaper and broadcast perspective as space and manpower will be a challenge.
For instance, how does the 'Sunday Game' edit a highlights package for 16 games into a two-hour slot, not to mention those 21 games in June? The prospect of a 'Saturday Game' (many of these games will take place on a Saturday afternoon and evening) or the return of a 'Monday Game' could be in the mix.
Just as media organisations will be challenged, so too will the inter-county refereeing panels, especially in hurling, with 11 games (eight MacCarthy Cup, three tier two) being possibly accommodated on five of the first six championship weekends.
Gaps between games
The days of five and six-week gaps for any inter-county team will be a thing of the past when the new schedule is firmed up.
The most any team can expect to wait looks like being four weeks. With the Leinster hurling final now expected to go off on the same weekend as the Munster hurling final (Sunday, July 1), the gap for the champions will be four weeks to All-Ireland semi-finals on July 28/29.
In football, the longest gaps look like they'll also be four weeks. The preliminary quarter-final losers in Ulster and Leinster will have to wait four weeks, as will the loser of the first Connacht semi-final, but generally the gaps between games will be two weeks, with three-week gaps for the Connacht and Munster football champions ahead of the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
All-Ireland semi-finals on the same weekend
Hurling and football semi-finals will condense into the same weekend with Saturday evening/Sunday afternoon schedules. The likely football dates are August 11 and 12.
Seven football games in eight weekends a possibility
A team that loses a provincial semi-final could find themselves in a round-two qualifier on Saturday, June 23, the provisional date for these games to be played.
To win their way through to an All-Ireland final would require action every weekend with the exception of Saturday 28/Sunday July 29, when the All-Ireland quarter-finals break to give the All-Ireland hurling semi-finals standalone status.