'We're not asking for anything other than to be treated the same as the other counties'
Fixture changes may force Premier footballers to play two Munster SFC clashes in seven days
It was inevitable that kinks would surface with the rolling out of a new inter-county fixtures programme as more games are packed into a much tighter time frame in an attempt, ultimately, to create more space for club games.
Already, the clash between inter-county and third-level games appears much more acute than in the past while the most adverse spell of weather through winter and spring for some time caused significant disruption, resulting in the Allianz Division 1 hurling final going back two weeks from its original date and three Division 4 football matches being shelved altogether because the Central Competition Controls Committee declared that time had run out and that clashes with club fixtures through April couldn't be countenanced.
But an even more significant kink has now surfaced on the Munster Football Championship schedule with Tipperary being asked to, potentially, play games on back-to-back weekends in May because there is no room on the first weekend in June, the original date for a Cork/Tipperary semi-final, if that pairing transpires.
Munster hurling championship matches involving Cork (v Limerick) on Saturday, June 2 and Tipperary (v Waterford in Limerick) on Sunday, June 3 prompted Munster Council to seek change.
Tipperary must first beat Waterford in a quarter-final on Saturday, May 19 but with those big hurling matches on different days involving both counties, a potential Cork/Tipperary semi-final has now been re-fixed for Saturday, May 26, seven days after Tipperary's quarter-final with Waterford.
The decision has stunned Tipperary football manager Liam Kearns and prompted him to accuse the Munster Council of compromising the integrity of one of the primary competitions they are guardians of.
Kearns has decided to speak out now in the knowledge that they must still beat Waterford for this scenario to arise and he is very conscious of that.
He could have chosen to reserve comment until after the quarter-final. But, on a point of principle, he says it must be raised now because of the integrity issue and the clear disadvantage that it potentially puts his team at.
"Most importantly, there are four teams in the Munster quarter-finals (Clare play Limerick on May 20 also in the other quarter-final). Three (Clare, Limerick and Waterford), if they win, will be playing a semi-final two weeks later. One (Tipperary) will be playing seven days later. That means we are at a disadvantage before a ball is thrown in. We're not asking for anything other than to be treated the same as the other counties.
"Also, if we beat Waterford, and that's a big if, then we will be playing Cork and an advantage has been conferred on them. They are a fresh team playing a team with a championship match in their legs seven days previously. That will give them an advantage over Kerry who will be playing a team who have two-week break.
"That goes to the very heart of the competition, the integrity of the competition which is of paramount importance. Before a ball is thrown in it is no longer fair. We've been treated really badly.
"The Competition Controls Committee, the very name of the committee suggests that their very function is to protect the integrity of the competition and, in my view, this decision has blatantly failed to do that," he said.
"We are now the only team in the country being asked to play two provincial football matches in seven days, if the situation arises.
"We can't look past the Waterford game but to make our point we simply have to."
Kearns said Tipperary were willing to play as originally planned, Sunday June 3 at 2pm in Thurles, knowing it wasn't "ideal" for supporters with the hurlers involved in Limerick at 4pm.
When Munster sought to revisit the issue, Tipperary proposed a 12.30pm start that Sunday but with Tipperary's minors playing in Limerick at 2pm that was ruled out.
With Cork involved in minor and senior hurling games on Saturday, that was ruled out too. The Bank Holiday Monday was an option but both counties did not want that either on the basis of the inconvenience that would be to players.
In the end, agreement between the counties could not be found and when Munster CCC sat last week, they set in stone Saturday, May 26.
"My first reaction was we would appeal," said Kearns when he heard of last week's decision. "I was informed there was no avenue for that. At that stage I was in shock, I didn't think the integrity of the competition would be sacrificed under any circumstances.
"We were approached to change because the (Tipperary) hurlers couldn't - they were locked into a televised game.
"We offered to go to Saturday but that wasn't possible because Cork were playing minor and senior hurling. We were then asked could we play on the Bank Holiday Monday. I put it to the players, they said they didn't want because of the inconvenience involved."
Munster Council chairman Jerry O'Sullivan said both counties were "utterly opposed" to playing on the Bank Holiday Monday.
Other suggestions were for Tipperary and Cork to play as a triple-header on Sunday, May 27 in Thurles with the Tipperary/Cork senior hurling match or to go to Limerick for a triple-header on Sunday, June 3, Kearns revealed.
"There was no agreement between the counties so the Munster CCC were to make a decision. We felt that, before their meeting, the only common-sense decision would be that we would have to suck it up and play the Bank Holiday. We felt it would be moving it a day, it wouldn't suit the players but we felt we were stuck with it. Or leave the fixture as it was. Either of those scenarios would have been agreeable and would ensure the integrity of the competition. All the other suggestions were just flannelling.
"My understanding is, they had the power to fix it whenever they wanted to, irrespective of the views of the counties and they came up with the least palatable option for us. How was that arrived at? We'd like to have been given some choices to express our preference."
Ironically, the Bank Holiday June weekend is the only one where there is a Saturday/Sunday split between Munster hurling championship games. The other four rounds will be played on Sunday afternoons, simultaneously in the case of three rounds.
The offer to play the game on the following Saturday, June 10, was also made, according to O'Sullivan, but this wasn't acceptable to the counties either.
The winners would still have two weeks to a Munster final (June 23), the losers would have a similar run into a second-round qualifier (June 23). It looked, from a distance, like the best fit.
O'Sullivan, who also chairs the provincial body's CCC, said they couldn't have football and hurling games involving the same counties at different venues on the same day.
"We pointed it (clash) out to the counties and they were toing and froing for two weeks and couldn't come to an agreement.
"The Bank Holiday Monday was an option but it was the last option either county wanted," he claimed.
"The following Saturday was available and was an option but again that wasn't suitable, we couldn't get agreement on that either.
"They had ample opportunity but when one county proposed something and the other county said no. We had no option but to fix the game."
The impact of the new fixtures landscape and television schedules are clearly evident in how this has played out in Munster.
Kearns says the mess that has evolved is another legacy of it.
"Shoehorning fixtures into such a compacted space has led to difficulties in relation to the league, in relation to the Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cup and in relation to the club month. Now it's the catalyst for this decision," he pointed out.
"We're used to common sense being thrown out in GAA but then when the integrity of the competition goes with it, it becomes a huge issue."
Kearns has made contact with the Gaelic Players Association to impress upon them that their players are being "wronged" and treated differently to Clare, Limerick and Waterford.
"Munster came and said it wouldn't fair on supporters (to have games at different venues on the same day). It was nothing we did. We would be ready for this fixture, if it came about, as it stood.
"We are now, potentially, the victims, when we did nothing wrong. If we beat Waterford, all our preparations have to change."
Tipperary will not partake in the forthcoming launch of the Munster Championship in protest at their treatment, at what they feel is the compromising of the integrity of the competition and also to highlight the absence of an avenue of appeal to a fixture.
"If it happened to Waterford, Clare or Limerick, as a manager of a team in this competition I would be saying, 'This is wrong'," added Kearns.