Frank Roche: 'Sigerson, Fitzgibbon, National League and U-20 - Three months of fixture madness have just begun'
NOT for the first time in his long and eventful managerial career, Billy Morgan had a pop at GAA officialdom on Sunday.
The former Cork supremo had just overseen UCC’s 2-12 to 1-14 victory over NUI Galway in the first round of the Sigerson Cup.
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Morgan led the Leeside university to last year’s title. Doubtless, this perennially driven competitor would love to go back-to-back, as he did with Cork all those years ago, in 1989-90.
But, even in victory, he wasn’t a happy camper on Sunday. Morgan was proud of his players, even more so because of the newly compressed format for this year’s Sigerson.
"Thanks to Croke Park, we were missing there six inter-county players," Morgan told the Electric Ireland YouTube channel.
"College doesn’t actually open until tomorrow so we couldn’t prepare."
"We’d no preparation thanks to Croke Park. I don’t know who’s making fixtures up in Croke Park or who the genius up there is, but they’re just clearing the decks for inter-county, it’s become an elite association," he claimed.
"You see the players that are packing in because there’s no future for them."
Some of you, no doubt, are already saying "There goes Billy again!"
But maybe he has a point.
Welcome to the season of pure fixture madness. The months of January to March, when there are more senior inter-county matches than in the remaining nine months combined.
And it doesn’t end there.
Take football, for example. You have the Sigerson Cup, earlier than ever and shoehorned into January, to Morgan’s displeasure.
And you have the U20 championship, reverting from its shortlived summer home where it had been played as a developmental competition in tandem with the senior championship.
Instead, the provincial U20 championships will now kick off on the second weekend in February and continue at a frenetic pace until the All-Ireland final is played at the end of March.
The season of madness has just turned crazier still.
Especially this year, it would seem. When the U21 championship changed its birth cert and moved to summer, a rule was introduced whereby eligible footballers had to choose between U20 or SFC; they couldn’t play both simultaneously, hence the gifted likes of David Clifford never played U20 for Kerry.
That rule, however, cannot prevent a footballer from playing both U20 and national league this spring.
This issue was addressed by the GAA’s Fixtures Calendar Review Taskforce in its pre-Christmas report: among its recommendations on the U20 football championship is that eligibility be restricted to players who have not played in the NFL that year. However, that proposal will require Special Congress approval later this year.
So for now, in theory at least, a gifted young footballer who played for his college last weekend and whose various teams keep on winning could play three further rounds of the Sigerson Cup (January 19, 22 and 29) while then juggling two inter-county roles (starting on January 25/26 in the NFL, with U20 running from February 8) where bilocation issues do not arise.
Now, you would trust that most managers would have the scientific smarts/common sense not to flog their young stars unduly for some dubious short-term gain. But what if a manager’s future is on the line?
In the multi-layered world of the GAA, the collision of competing forces at club, college and county level has always been there.
But given the ever-growing inter-county demands, and with the rush to free up club space later in the year, this problem only appears to be getting worse.