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Sunday 22 October 2017

Christmas club crackers are all very well but ...

LIKE all great ideas in theory, there is always that niggling doubt ... how will it be in practice? Thus it is with the GAA's decision to complete the All-Ireland club championships in the same calendar year, starting from 2016.

This column will lay its cards on the table from the off: we have always loved the special atmosphere, and occasion, that is the All-Ireland club pageant on our national feast day ... but that hasn't stopped us from being long-time advocates of pulling the plug on St Patrick's Day.

Why? Because it's not logical to extend the previous year's club campaign into the third month of a new year. Because there is no scheduling sense in playing provincial club finals in late November/early December, then telling the winners to wait over two months to play again.

Because it's not fair on the counties involved to be denied access to several of their star men for the majority of the Allianz League - especially if that county is a minnow with a shallow pick.

Because spring is already a fixtures bottleneck - between the two national leagues, provincial U21 football and the higher education championships - without throwing the All-Ireland club series into this congested pile-up.

Because, well, one club campaign neatly packaged into the one year makes eminent sense ...

Ever sense a but?

TOPICAL

Wexford's inability to field a team in this year's Leinster club SFC is a topical reminder of the practical problems faced by some counties in even getting to the provincial start-line.

Wexford won't have their club football championship finished in time to produce an opponent to face the Laois champions, despite moves to delay that game by a week, until November 9. It's the same story in Tipperary, who won't have football champions ready to do battle with Kerry rivals on the weekend of November 8/9.

In many respects, it's possible to have sympathy with dual-playing counties such as Tipp, whose club programme was obviously compromised by the county's involvement in an All-Ireland hurling final replay. Likewise with Wexford, whose huge crossover of players involved in both codes has been compounded this year by the dual success of St Anne's and Shelmaliers, who will contest the SHC final next Sunday and then face off in the SFC semi-finals.

"The problem is going to get worse, it's going to escalate," claimed Wexford chairman Diarmuid Devereux. "We have 49 clubs in Wexford and, with the exception of a handful, they are all dual."

Still, that doesn't make it any more equitable that some players (such as Diarmuid Connolly) are asked to be involved in marathon club seasons extending into the following March; before going virtually straight back into a county campaign that stretches until the end of August; and then straight back into club duty - on two fronts!

For the St Vincent's virtuoso, it could end this weekend - or it could conceivably go all the way to next March again. And then back to the Dubs!

The solution? There is no easy one. Except - perish the thought and whisper it softly - some county boards and clubs may have to bite the bullet and accept that it's not just the inter-county dual player who is an endangered species.

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