Start League in the autumn
THE heavy fixtures load being foisted on many GAA players at this time of year has prompted Offaly hurling manager Joe Dooley to suggest returning to an autumn start for the National Leagues.
That runs contrary to the current Croke Park policy of fitting all inter-county action into the January-September period, but Dooley believes that a return to the old system has considerable merit.
"It used to be that way when I was playing and I have to say I enjoyed it. Players still had a residue of fitness from county and club championships, so there was no problem there. In fact, you'd look forward to games in October-November and very often the weather was quite good too.
"As it is, counties can go out of the championship in July -- as happened us last year -- and have no more games of any description until January.
"That's an awful long time, but then when things start up in January, it's frantic for a few months.
"We went from Walsh Cup straight into the league and now counties have five league games in six weekends between the end of February and early April.
"Lots of lads are also involved in Fitzgibbon, which adds to the workload. I just think it's too much in a short space of time, especially when there's such a long gap in the second half of the year," said Dooley.
He believes that a return to the pre-Christmas start for the leagues would ease the pressures on players, while also giving managers a chance to experiment in a less hectic environment.
"The provincial club championships run in October-November, but teams are eliminated quite quickly, so counties could manage without players from clubs still involved on the club scene. I just think there's too much crammed in at this time of year, especially for college players who are also on county teams," said Dooley.
His own son, Shane, is among those who has been extremely busy with college and county.
"I know that there would be opposition in some quarters to starting the league in autumn, but it would certainly ease things out at this time of year. I think that would be very beneficial," said Dooley, who is preparing to take Offaly into an extremely busy phase, in which they face Dublin (home), Galway (away), Limerick (home) and Waterford (away) over the next four weekends.
Their Division 1 fate will almost certainly be decided in those games, as they face Tipperary in the final round on April 18 and they would hate to be relying on picking up points in this clash to survive in the top flight.
For reasons that nobody can quite explain, Offaly were drawn 'away' in their first two games against Cork and Kilkenny, going down by a combined total of 19 points. It dropped them to the bottom of the table, which leaves victory in Sunday's game against Dublin crucial if they are to begin a fightback before the threat of relegation sets in around O'Connor Park.
"We have to be honest -- we weren't good in the first two games. Playing Cork and Kilkenny away was always going to be difficult, but we're in Division 1 now, so you have to be ready for what comes your way. This is a very competitive league where every point is vital, which is why it's very important that we start picking some up very soon."
Winning a home tie with Dublin would have been seen as well within Offaly's range over the years, but times have changed. Dublin have reached a stage where they beat Tipperary quite convincingly, while Offaly only returned to Division 1 this year.
"Even when we were going well, we always found Dublin hard to beat -- especially at this time of year. It's a big game for us on Sunday because if we lose, we fall four points behind them and others too. We certainly need to improve on what we've done so far, but the scope is there if we can get things right on the day," said Dooley.
Brendan Murphy is still out with a back injury, but Ger Oakley (knee) and David Franks (groin) are back in contention for places.