Sunday 18 March 2018

Martin Breheny: Laois and Carlow would be justified in boycotting Friday night farce

Damien O'Connor of Laois and Carlow's Eoghan Ruth contest a high ball during last year's Qualifier between the counties
Damien O'Connor of Laois and Carlow's Eoghan Ruth contest a high ball during last year's Qualifier between the counties
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

AS bizarre decisions go, fixing the Carlow-Laois first round football qualifier for next Friday week truly is All-Ireland class.

In the circumstances, both squads should unite in practical opposition to the timing of a game which will be the last of the year for the losers. They would be fully justified in taking the ultimate sanction by threatening to boycott the fixture unless it's restored to the original date.

That may appear a rather extreme reaction to what is actually an interesting experiment. Expanding the senior inter-county programme beyond weekends is an excellent idea from a promotional viewpoint and has been mooted occasionally over the years. However, it has never progressed beyond playing some games on June and August Bank Holiday Mondays.

Still, playing on weekday evenings remains a worthwhile concept, but only as part of a systematic strategy, not an on-the-hoof call as appears to have happened with Carlow v Laois. What makes the fixing of the game for Friday week so wrong is that it was announced only 11 days in advance.

The official 2013 GAA fixtures' calendar, issued last December, showed Saturday, June 29 as the date for the first round qualifiers. There wasn't even provision to play some games on the following day, but, in fairness, a Saturday-Sunday interchange has always been accepted as a possibility, depending on counties' needs.

However, it's altogether different when a major change in fixtures' policy is hoisted on players at 11 days' notice, especially when it involves playing an All-Ireland championship game on a weekday. In purely logistical terms, that will require some players taking a half-day off work; in real terms it will involve most of them taking the entire day off as they attempt to get themselves well-geared for what may be a season-defining game.

GAA rules don't allow financial compensation for income lost through training or games, so this tie could result in a money hit for some. For others, it will be taken off holidays.

Clearly, if the GAA intends to play weekday games on a regular basis, loss of income will have to be addressed, but even without that consideration, there's an inherent unfairness involved in fast-tracking Carlow v Laois to a Friday evening.

Players – and, indeed, management teams – had no reason to believe that Friday week was anything other than the day before the game. Some of them may have committed themselves to some specific work-related project, not knowing that they were about to be presented with a major football commitment.

Then, on the Monday week before the game, they are told that the GAA's fixture-makers have decided to introduce a significant change of policy by playing a championship game on a Friday.

What makes it all the more unacceptable is that Carlow were eliminated from the Leinster championship on May 19 last, followed a week later by Laois.

If they were informed back then that there was a possibility of Friday night qualifier action, it might have been easier to make the necessary arrangements, although not sorting out the possible loss of income.

Of course, nobody knew that far back that Carlow and Laois would be paired in the qualifiers (a Friday game is, for practical purposes, contingent on neighbouring counties playing each other), but then that raises another issue about the timing of the draws.

For now though, it comes down to this: an important change in fixtures' policy has been hoisted on two counties at 11 days' notice. And before the argument that U-21 and minor championship games are regularly played on weekdays gathers momentum, the big difference is that the vast majority of those players are still in college.

Also, players know the dates months in advance.

Counties are quite happy to play pre-season games midweek because they are little more than training spins and, besides, it's not a big deal if some players can't make it. The Carlow-Laois situation is completely different.

This is about two sets of players being told that the fixtures' schedule, as announced six months ago, has been changed on a whim. They deserve better.

Name-calling on Twitter won't solve this one. It would be far better if both squads got together and calmly announced that they are not available on Friday week, but will happily play on Saturday or Sunday.

Right is on their side and they are entitled to assert it.

Irish Independent

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