Cyril Farrell: Fixture-cramming is causing hurling promotional pain for no gain
Tightening county schedule was meant to boost club action but there's no evidence that it works
At last - a weekend to draw breath. Never in the history of the hurling championships have the weeks between mid-May and mid-July been so busy, but now we're left with just three more games.
Even then, the two All-Ireland semi-finals will be played within 24 hours of each other. Why? And why is the final on August 19 two weeks ahead of its usual date?
Why were the Leinster and Munster finals on the one day? Why were the round robin provincial games squeezed so tightly that some counties had to play four weekends in a row?
Why was Clare and Wexford fixed for Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Saturday, when Thurles is far more convenient for both?
The GAA gets most of its business right and deserve to be commended across so many areas of its operation, but when you see those examples as outlined, it leaves you baffled as to why fixture-planning remains so problematical.
We're told that the championship season in both hurling and football has been tightened up in the interest of clubs. It's a noble ambition but it hasn't worked.
Drive around the country over the past few months and you will see lots of club grounds in excellent condition (well, they would be if it weren't for the drought and Croke Park can hardly be blamed for that!), but there's little action going on.
There's more behind that than county managers not allowing players to play for their clubs during the championship season.
There's hardly a club in the country that hasn't lost players to America for the summer so it suits them not to have championship games until lads return home. The lure of the dollar is mighty and if players can pocket a hefty wad and enjoy themselves in the US, many are going to take it, especially those from the less successful counties.
I'm not a spoilsport who wants that stopped but let's at least acknowledge that it impacts on the club scene back home. I never hear of that angle being discussed at Congress or Central Council.
Instead, managers take the blame for allegedly demanding total access to county players. We've got to think of the big picture and, from a promotional viewpoint, it's pure daft to squeeze so many games into such a short space of time.
As for playing the Leinster and Munster finals on the one day and the All-Ireland semi-finals on the same weekend, it's throwing away glorious opportunities to squeeze maximum exposure from events that every GAA person - and a great many others as well - are interested in. After all that, the second last Sunday in August closes down the season. Maybe I'm missing something but I just don't get it.
It will be interesting to monitor the dates of county finals this year to see how much earlier they are played. I suspect a great many of them will be around the same time as previous years.
And if that's the case, why waste valuable promotional openings by cramming so many games into a tight time-frame before ending it all on August 19?
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And then there were four. The hurling season goes on for Clare, Cork, Galway and Limerick, leaving the rest reflecting on what might have been.
Chief among those are probably Michael Ryan and Tipperary and Derek McGrath and Waterford, the former after starting the campaign as second favourites for the All-Ireland, the latter after suffering every stroke of ill-luck imaginable.
There really was nothing Waterford could do after they were dealt such a lousy hand. Crucified by injuries, it was a write-off season for the Déise, who are now looking for a new manager.
Still, some good may come of it. The early exit gives the players a chance to recharge the batteries over a longer period, which will leave them fresh for next year.
As for Tipperary, it must be painful watching the season unfold without them. They will have followed Clare's progress with particular interest because if they had beaten them in their final round robin game everything would have been so much different.
They would have finished third in Munster and continued in the All-Ireland race. If they had got there, they would probably now be preparing for the semi-finals and in with a real good chance of winning the All-Ireland.
Remember how tight their game with Clare was and that ball that hit a post just before a Banner counter-attack yielded a goal?
Small margins. The same goes for Kilkenny, who might well have beaten Galway if the drawn Leinster final had gone on a minute or two longer as the momentum was with them. We have four excellent semi-finalists but it doesn't mean they are much ahead of some of those who were squeezed out.