Counties preparing for 2022 won’t have the usual pre-season competitions to compete in as the GAA presses ahead with a new-look schedule.
The O’Byrne Cup in Leinster, McGrath Cup in Munster, McKenna Cup in Ulster and the Connacht League have all provided valuable preparatory opportunities in the past ahead of the Allianz League starts.
Some of the games have attracted huge crowds in the past, most notably the 19,000 that were in Casement Park in 2006 for the McKenna Cup meeting of Tyrone and Armagh and the 14,000 in Cusack Park in Mullingar when Westmeath, in Páidí Ó Sé’s first year as manager, played Meath.
But it was a recommendation of the Fixtures Calendar Review Task Force that they be dispensed with to tighten the schedule and, as it stands, the provincial councils are not planning to play them.
Originally the Task Force had recommended retaining them with no collective training before December 1 but the Allianz League will be the first competition in 2022.
The thinking from the Task Force was that dispensing with them would “ensure a more meaningful closed season” and appropriate “down time” for intercounty players.
The league has been pencilled in for a late January start but that is not set in stone because competition structures have not yet been decided and won’t be until a Special Congress is held shortly after October 22 when Covid restrictions are expected to be lifted and gatherings of this nature are held.
Leinster chief executive Michael Reynolds has indicated, however, that if there is a willingness among counties for games to be staged over a short time-frame in January in the run-up to the league, that could still happen as counties will be seeking challenge matches anyway.
The 2022 season will see the split season in operation for the first time with no overlap of the club and county seasons, irrespective of what format there is, though hybrids of it have been in place over the last two years due to Covid restrictions.