Monday 17 June 2019

Kilkenny's mid-summer club clashes may be vision of future

Cody: Facing squad injury problems. Photo: Ben McShane/Sportsfile
Cody: Facing squad injury problems. Photo: Ben McShane/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

After they left Netwatch Cullen Park in Carlow on Sunday night, Kilkenny's players might have been expected to head off to try and recover from any aches or injuries they were carrying after two high-tempo championship games in eight days.

Instead, they went their separate ways on Sunday night to prepare to go again - this time to play senior league matches with their clubs over the next two nights.

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With Kilkenny's next championship outing less than three weeks away, releasing county players en masse back to their clubs is the road less travelled.

But the experience of 2018 exercised the clubs of the county to seek change.

Last summer, with the rearrangement of the Leinster championship, club players in the county went 17 weeks without meaningful action.

And with the calendar offering the Cats a three-week break with the idle weekend followed by their bye weekend in Leinster, the decision was taken to shoe-horn another round of league into that break.

In Kilkenny the league is an important competition in the county and matches have a direct correlation to that year's championship.

A high league placing can see teams get a bye in the first round and thereby preserve senior status.

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It's good for the club players of the county who will get a third game of the summer but it's far from ideal for manager Brian Cody who was already dealing with a significant injury list before Sunday's game where Colin Fennelly, Walter Walsh and Alan Murphy were forced off.

However, it picks up on a theme the Kilkenny manager highlighted last winter where he stated that the club players are being given a raw deal.

"Everybody talks about the club, the club, the club, and rightly so, but it's the club players who are being isolated," he said in October.

"They are being denied the opportunity to enjoy playing the game when they need to play the game."

It's an innovative approach to the fixtures issue but like every idea it has a downside - Kilkenny's decision to play matches this week puts more pressure on the county players who are already flat out.

Overall, though, it's an improvement for the 99pc of players to the detriment of the 1pc and works off the premise that county players can serve more than one master during the summer.

It's also a sign that counties are starting to take a more serious look at their fixtures and how it affects their clubs.

There was similar fresh thinking in Cork when one of the proposals put forward for the restructuring of their competitions might have seen clubs play some championship matches without their county stars.

The proposal didn't gain much traction but it was a sign that the mood music with regards to fixtures has changed.

The issue has taken on a higher significance for the GAA's top brass recently with the establishment of the Fixtures Review Committee.

That group will meet next month for the first time with the understanding that no proposal is off the table.

Kilkenny and Cork have shown that there is a growing willingness to grasp the nettle that is the club fixtures issue.

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