Tuesday 17 September 2019

Glut of inter-county games to get larger - so more extra-time finishes on way


'The 'shoot-out' has been used to determine quite a few games this year - more than what was probably envisaged when it was conceived.' Stock photo: Sportsfile
'The 'shoot-out' has been used to determine quite a few games this year - more than what was probably envisaged when it was conceived.' Stock photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Around the same time that Ireland were beginning to turn the screw on New Zealand in Dublin, an epic Ulster club intermediate semi-final between Cavan's Mullahoran and Derry's Banagher was coming to a conclusion in Armagh.

A free-kick competition was under way after the teams couldn't be divided by 90-plus minutes of action over three different periods - 60 minutes of normal time, two 10-minute spells of extra-time, and two further five-minute periods of extra-time.

The 'shoot-out' has been used to determine quite a few games this year - more than what was probably envisaged when it was conceived. But none, in relative terms, as important as an Ulster club football intermediate semi-final.

We can't say it's a great way to win a game but it's certainly a cruel way to lose one. That's the way for some of these fixtures that must be decided 'on the day', a necessity in a calendar with so little room for manoevre.

'Winner-on-the-day' determination, as it will soon be known if a recommendation to this weekend's Central Council is carried, will become more commonplace too (and without the second two five-minute periods of extra-time).

It will stretch beyond league quarter-finals, qualifiers and provincial club games to include the Joe McDonagh Cup final, the All-Ireland hurling championship preliminary quarter-finals, all knock-out league games, U-20 and minor (knock-out only) hurling and football competitions - with the exception of finals - and intermediate and junior championship matches.

Also on the agenda for Central Council are the two proposals for a second-tier championship which, if passed this weekend and then at Congress next February, could be up and running by 2020.

One proposal seeks straightforward separation between Division 1/2 and Division 3/4 teams after the provincial championships, unless a Division 3/4 team have reached a provincial final.

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The other proposal, favoured by the GAA's Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC), looks for that separation after two rounds of the qualifiers.

Thus, the current qualifier structures would remain in place and only those Division 3/4 teams who don't advance to the third round of qualifiers.

With CCCC backing and allowing for all counties to maintain full access to the Sam Maguire Cup via provincial championship and qualifiers, that second proposal has a better chance of success.

Based on 2018 results, a second-tier championship would have incorporated 12 counties under this structure and required 10 games in July and one in August, the final - yet another addition to a calendar already bulging with inter-county activity.

Think about it in these terms. In 2017 there were 128 inter-county championship fixtures (excluding replays) between the provincial and All-Ireland football championships and the four tiers of hurling championships.

By 2020, with the potential addition of 11 second-tier football games (assuming 12 teams regularly contest it) the number of inter-county games will have risen by up to 30 (19 football, 11 hurling) to 158 when the eight 'Super 8s' games, the additional provincial hurling championship round-robin games, the Joe McDonagh Cup games and the cup competitions are factored in.

It was only 2015 when the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) were unveiling their fixtures blueprint, drawing a response from leading GAA officials that they were about fewer inter-county games, not more.

But more it is and it looks like it will continue to be that way with the wind blowing hard now behind a second-tier competition.

That's all before a new-look U-20 football knock-out competition could be prefaced by a development league that would potentially give each county four games to replace challenge games.

Again more games, albeit under the development banner, in a more compressed space, that will keep those involved away from their clubs for longer. No wonder the Club Players Association continue to demand a clean approach.

That reshaped calendar has given clubs longer access to their players but it has created pressure points elsewhere that have seen pre-season competitions push further into December and 'winner-on-the-day' windows increase.

At the launch of the Leinster Hurling Championship in April, Kilkenny manager Brian Cody struck a confused note when he mused how so much change introduced to help club players had actually resulted in so many more inter-county matches.

It's 30 and counting with no sign of any real control over it.

Irish Independent

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