'Our plans are a lot better than what's proposed' - CPA ‘fear impasse’ with GAA as ‘master-plan’ revealed
At their official launch in Ballyboden St Enda's in January, the Club Players Association secretary and initiator Declan Brennan spoke of the 'skill set' of the people involved with him, and was adamant that it would all be put to very good use.
By then the work had already begun. From researching the commencement and conclusion of 63 club championship programmes in hurling and football that provided some clarity as to the direction they felt they needed to take, they set about redrawing the calendar with a view to what best served the club player.
Their analysis threw up some interesting statistics on 2016 alone:
- 71pc of all club championship games were played between August and October (13 weeks).
- 24pc of all club championship games were played from May to July (14 weeks)
- 4pc of all rounds were played before May.
They found that Donegal had a 14-week break between their first and second rounds, Clare had a 13-week break between their first and second rounds, while 23 weeks divided the first and second rounds in Dublin.
In separate groups, headed by former Wexford hurling manager Liam Griffin and former Cork footballer Derek Kavanagh, they set about working off a "blank canvas" to assess what they felt was the best balance.
The result was 11 different plans, distilled down to three, all integrated into the same calendar.
The month of April should be completely free of all inter-county fixtures; only All-Ireland hurling finals and football semi-finals should be played in August; and by the end of November, All-Ireland club finals would be completed in the calendar year with December a closed season for all before the cycle starts again with pre-season in January.
To achieve this a few 'sacred cows' have had to be slaughtered, as Griffin suggested in Ballyboden.
In one of three plans, provincial competition has been dispensed with completely in preference to an All-Ireland Championship run on a tiered league basis with 10 hurling and 14 football home and away games leading into quarter-finals where the top four in either division of each tier meet.
Provincial competitions are integrated into the two other plans.
Attached with each plan is a 78-page explanatory document. The CPA say they have stepped through each plan carefully and are convinced that their principles can be achieved.
They have met repeatedly with senior GAA officials who are now pressing ahead with reform of the 2018 calendar to incorporate the most recent Congress changes and perhaps a new hurling landscape if agreement can be quickly reached.
But the CPA are against that "sticking plaster" approach and believe a complete overhaul is the only way a real solution can be reached to best serve the future.
Under the GAA's plans a tighter April is also being looked at to accommodate more time for club activity, with the earlier All-Ireland final conclusions, now enshrined by rule, potentially creating space.
"There is a lot of common ground between what we want and what the GAA wants," says CPA chairman Micheal Briody. "They are trying to get a club window in April. Our plans do that too, one without training camps, challenge games - a complete club month
"From the beginning of August on, apart from the four teams left in the All-Ireland finals, it's completely free for clubs. What's the difference? We have a master-plan. We are putting in a master-plan to look at hurling, football, club and county.
"We're working off two main bases: maximum participation and player welfare. That involves breaks but it involves club-only periods as well."
But after sticking with their plan to discuss their plans "within" they now "fear an impasse," according to Briody.
"We don't want to get to a stage where there is no way forward," he said.
"We have plans that look after the club and inter-county players. We want Central Council to be able to look at them. And we want to work with them to try to see can we get a master-plan that protects the future of the game.
"We still think we can work together to get this solution. Because we represent 24,000 club members, there is no logical reason why they wouldn't look at our ideas.
"A lot of us are senior business people on the (CPA) executive. If we had someone coming into our offices and saying 'look there's a strategy there for your business that I think would make your customers happy' I think we would sit down with them and say 'right, we'll take that bit and that bit because that's going to make our lives easier.' We do have a strategic approach.
"I appreciate we are on the outside putting solutions in. The difficulty that has been thrown at us a lot of times is that it will never get through Congress. Why not if it's common sense?"
Referring to director general Paraic Duffy's weekend interview with the Irish Independent where he suggested that if clubs want change they can drive it, their experience at the most recent Congress didn't reflect that, Briody said.
"The CPA went through this democratic process. The results are now widely known. It did not work," he said, claiming the discussing on recognition was "vitriolic" and "condescending" before Nickey Brennan's intervention.
CPA treasurer Anthony Moyles feels the "incremental change", being implemented for 20 years now, can only go so far.
"It doesn't fix the wound," he said. "You are putting on your sticking plaster. You need to have a situation where the nettle is eventually grasped, disregarding any road blocks that are there.
"The way to do that, we feel, is that you go in with something that makes meaningful change. Incremental change has been happening for 20 years, there's been bits and pieces. We've come to it with a blank canvas, maybe there has been an auditor's approach to this where you sit back and ask 'is this fit for purpose? What are the impediments to that, let's get around them'."
Moyles believes the success of the standardised Allianz League points firmly in the direction of a tiered championship which is at the heart of their proposals.
"This isn't just us sitting in a room thinking we are representing ourselves because we see the problems," added Moyles. "There are 24,000 members, we have surveyed them. We did a survey recently where we got a high threshold of respondents and, of that, there was 84pc who said they were dissatisfied with the fixture list as it is.
"They have joined with us in their droves. They are saying the frustration is there, they want something done."
They insist that the 2018 structures, incorporating Super 8s would not fit into the calendar they have proposed and have already tried to adapt it with no success.
Discussions with the GPA fixtures committee brought them round to the conclusion that a further break during May/June to allow for more club games would be counter-productive. "They have said, and understandably so, if it's stop-start it's very difficult," says Briody.
The forum they asked for at the outset, where all major stakeholders were invited, is still their preferred option.
At the weekend Duffy touched briefly on the CPA's existence and they agree that, theoretically, there should be no need for a club players' group.
They also agree that a two-tier championship is inevitable. But where they diverge is on the pace of change and the responsibility of county boards to run better fixture programmes.
"This is a far too simplistic answer and unfair to county boards. Inter-county and club fixtures are intrinsically interlinked.
"Because there is no master-plan and no order to the fixtures for many years now, the continuous introduction of incremental change to inter-county fixtures ensures that more difficulties arise for county boards each year," said Briody.
"We have taken a diplomatic approach here and we have worked within the structures up to now. But we're at a stage though where our next step is important.
"We don't want to be a militant, outside the tent, giving out about everything. Because what we have here are plans, well thought out plans.
"They may not be 100pc perfect - someone may well tweak them - but we think they are a lot better than what's there and what is proposed."
How the CPA envisage a new calendar
Here are the main points that the CPA are trying to bring home:
- April for clubs only. No inter-county competitions, challenges, training camps in that window.
- August onwards for clubs, apart from four All-Ireland finalists (All-Ireland hurling final on August 12, All-Ireland football final on August 19 using 2018 calendar). All-Ireland football semi-finals on first weekend of August.
- All-Ireland club finals completed in calendar year, end of November finals projected.
- December closed season.
- Three different inter-county competitive structures forwarded, all with tiered All-Ireland league.
- 'Purple' option has 10 hurling, 14 football home and away games (five and seven games in each code either side of April shut-down) through to July with top four in either division of each tier qualifying for quarter-final in mid to late July.
- 'Purple plus' integrates a provincial cup to run simultaneously with All-Ireland league in purple plan, with provincial cup and All-Ireland cup finals, as distinct from All-Ireland finals, concluded by July.
- A 'green' option has a provincial group league with semi-finals and finals wrapped up before April with a tiered All-Ireland Championship taking place from May to August using the same calendar.
- CPA believe plans can exceed current revenue and will save money for counties.
- They also believe that finishing all club competitions in the same calendar year will ease significant financial burdens on clubs.
- Improvement in game-to-training ratio.
- Maximum two-week gap between games.