Sunday 20 January 2019

Mother Nature punishes GAA for fixtures overload

More trouble and strife on cards for calendar, Martin Breheny warns

Páraic Duffy. Photo: Sportsfile
Páraic Duffy. Photo: Sportsfile

The GAA cannot be blamed for Mother Nature deciding to despatch a particularly vengeful combination of weather events across the country in early March, but they should know well enough that it's risky to take her for granted.

That's precisely what they did by slotting in the entire Allianz football and hurling League programmes between January 27 and April 1.

It involved completing 215 games in nine weeks and since none can be played Monday-Friday, the reliance on benign weekend weather is obvious.

Since hurling had an even tighter timescale than football, the risks were greater.

Now, as the country prepares for blizzards which will almost certainly wipe out this weekend's entire hurling and football programmes, the folly of the scheduling is even more obvious.

Since the weekend after next was left free of football action, it can afford to miss this weekend but hurling has no such leeway.

Completing the schedule as planned required no disruption over six successive weekends, leading up to the Division 1 final on March 24. It was asking a lot of the weather gods.

Croke Park has the option of moving the Division 1 final back to Saturday, March 31, the day before the Division 1 and 2 football deciders. That's assuming, of course, that the weather doesn't have any more nasty surprises in store later this month.

Even if the March 31 date works, it's a solution to a problem that should never have arisen.

Clearing April of inter-county activity, while running the leagues in the same format with the same number of games, was always inviting scheduling difficulties.

Pressure to find more room for club activity earlier in the year increased once the 'Super 8s' were added to the All-Ireland football championships. Leaving April free of inter-county activity looks good in theory but how many important club games will be played during that month?

Or will it merely extend the preparation time for inter-county squads, most of whose managers would gleefully dispense with all club activity until the county team has concluded its championship run?

If that turns out to be the case, the GAA will have handed itself the worst of both worlds. The promotional value of completing the leagues in April will have been lost, without improving the club scene.

Páraic Duffy flashed out a warning to counties last weekend to take greater control of their fixtures, rather than passing the buck to others.

"Central Council has done as much as it can - now it's up to county boards to run their affairs in a manner than serves them best. Finding the best structure for each county cannot be done by Croke Park.

"It's up to counties to look at their own situations, look at their championship structures and all that go with them and then work out how to make it all work," he told delegates in what was a parting shot before he steps down as director-general at the end of March.

And, in a comment which is relevant to how much club activity goes ahead in April, Duffy said that county boards should assert their authority with team managers.

"It's very simple. County committees appoint managers so it's your responsibility to ensure that you retain control.

"If a manager doesn't care about clubs and club players, don't appoint him. There's no point complaining afterwards - you run your counties so it's your responsibility," he said.

Irrespective of what happens in April, Croke Park's fixture-makers will need to look carefully at the programme for next year.

Starting the leagues so early and trying to run them off in two months is not only fraught with risks, it's also undermining the competitions, especially hurling.

The standard of pitches has improved substantially in recent years but they are still unsuitable for hurling in late January and most of February.

Obviously, that extends into March this year.

The Central Competitions Control Committee sought to ease the pressure by proposing that the Division 1 hurling quarter-finals be scrapped but their call was rejected by Central Council, who insisted that four teams from 1A and 1B enter the knockout stages.

Abolishing the quarter-finals would have cleared one weekend, ensuring that the final went ahead on March 24 as planned.

Irish Independent

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