DO you ever wonder if county, provincial or national fixture makers plan for the draw? And by that I don’t mean they spend the previous week praying for the financial windfall that a draw in a high profile fixture provides.
Indeed, I often think they are on their hands and knees praying for a result on the day so that their fixture lists don’t veer dramatically off course.
The chaos of the club fixture list is the next speeding train coming down the tracks and if county boards don’t wise up soon they will face the summer months with no fixtures at all, and worse, no players.
These players are beginning to make decisions that don’t have their club championship games at the centre of their lives and the June to August sojourn Stateside is now becoming a rite of passage for young club players.
Presently, they return in late summer to rejoin panels of 10 or 12 players but soon enough they won’t even bother with that. Would you train for over three months knowing there is no championship fixture on the horizon?
You will be aware of the publicity surrounding club fixtures in Donegal (no championship to be played until after Donegal’s involvement in county football is over and after last Sunday, we could be talking late September here); Dublin (after a single round of knockout fare, have put their championship season on ice and will sprinkle league games (without the county lads?) over the summer.
And there is a fair degree of certainty Dublin will not re-launch the club championship until September). In Offaly, Tyrone (Mickey Harte is unhappy he was not being consulted on the fixtures), and in Roscommon, clubs are beginning to rumble.
The first taste of success for the Rossies (Division 3 NFL champions and a provincial quarter-final win over Leitrim, God Bless the mark!) has set the county management team into action. League games were cancelled (yet again) last weekend to allow Roscommon prepare for Mayo in a few weeks’ time.
Allow me to note at this stage that down Mayo way they played a full round of club championship games last Saturday and Sunday.
At a recent Q and A I was asked for my thoughts on how the club championship in Roscommon, might pan out. With the recent club champions St Brigid’s operating out of the county, interest should be keen on what happens here.
I had to hold back with an opinion as we had so few games played it was impossible to see formlines. Who is playing? Who is injured? Who is going to America? All that sort of chat, discussion and gossip that our games generate is not being provided ... because games are not being played.
In Brigid’s, a top club in terms of ambition, organisation and still performing very well at senior level, the desperately frustrating position remains the numbers at training and I have no doubt that is replicated countrywide.
It is almost impossible to conduct a session when a dozen or so players is all you can muster with the remainder away on county duty, in Dubai, the US or Australia.
So you end up with last weekend as an example of the scene in many counties: the County CCC caved in to the pressures of team management and the County Management obviously agreed. With county players unavailable clubs refused to play. And who would blame them?
I chaired a Roscommon review committee for fixtures in 2013/2014 and helped to reformat league and championship for 2015 to provide for greater competition and edge to both the league and championship. With your league status this year deciding your entry level for next season is it any wonder clubs did not play without their county lads?
But from a Roscommon perspective, a deeper question is posed: having signed - off’ on the fixtures why did a victory over Leitrim merit a rethink? Therein lies, perhaps, the psychological barrier that must be crossed if teams like Mayo are to be beaten by Ros’: planning beyond a Leitrim victory was obviously seen as unnecessary! It really is a depressing landscape for clubs up and down the country. Many are already out of their championship and it is only mid-May. Why is such a scenario entertained? Mainly because many counties see these fixtures as a burden and will not tolerate group/round robin championships under any circumstances. A sad state of affairs.
Recent club champions and finalists such as Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin) and An Gaeltacht (Kerry) are already out and have no A’ championship summer ahead of them during the best weather months of June, July and August. It will lead to an exodus of players for whom a bit of league action no longer anchors them to the club. If that is life in well-established and functioning clubs what must it be like in the less fashionable ones?
This train is gathering speed and if brakes are not applied soon the very unit the GAA professes to cherish will weaken further. The GAA at national, provincial but especially county level, needs to man-up and insist on a calendar that provides enough games (approximately 20-22 which includes league, championship and challenges is deemed appropriate), on a regular basis (three per month from March to September), with championship games front and centre of the summer months.
That’s the specifications out of the way - now, who will drive it? A suggestion: let the club players form their own CPA (Club Players Association) and that will help to focus minds.