Monday 20 November 2017

High time for action: Duffy

Director-general's discussion paper seeks to put clubs back centre stage

Páraic Duffy
Páraic Duffy

During a wide-ranging briefing on his discussion paper that seeks to tackle those twin GAA bugbears - player burnout and a fixtures calendar that is wilfully unfair on the club player - Páraic Duffy cut to the chase.

"We are fed up talking about it," remarked the GAA's director-general. "We need to do something … it is make-up-your-mind time."

You can see why he is "fed up" because, despite the publication of eight different reports since 2004 containing a raft of proposals, not nearly enough recommendations have been enacted.

And in the interim, the problems have remained while the plight of the club player has worsened. Last year's Tipperary SFC concluded on St Stephen's Day. Dublin football's renaissance over the past half-decade has the knock-on effect of ensuring a mad October rush to run off their county championships, invariably stretching into November.

Even Laois, who crashed out of the race for Sam in June, didn't complete their local SFC until late October, forcing Portlaoise to play a county final replay and Leinster opener on successive days.


This is the context for Duffy's paper, effectively a revisitation of those eight reports coupled with a call-to-arms for "decisive action". He is supported by Aogán Ó Fearghail, who has made a rebalancing of the fixtures calendar in favour of clubs a priority of his presidency.

The document's proposals accompany this article - some will garner near-unanimous support, others will inflame a negative reaction. Of the latter, the most obvious would appear a call to discontinue the U21 football championship (while retaining its hurling equivalent) in a bid to reduce the burden on elite young footballers in the January/April period. Getting this one through Congress could prove the toughest ask of all, especially in light of a previous failed attempt to replace the minor and U21 football championships with one U19 grade.

Yet other proposals could likely have an even more transformational effect on freeing up dates for club activity.

Discontinuing the Allianz Football League semi-finals looks a no-brainer. Bringing forward the All-Ireland senior finals by a fortnight would slash the number of inter-county games played in August/September.

Just as crucial is a proposal to cut the minor age grade from U18 to U17. Not alone would this reduce the number of county minors caught up in Leaving Cert exams, it would mean the competition can no longer be used as an excuse for delaying adult club fixtures (since, from next year, U17s can no longer compete at adult level).

Playing extra-time in all games, All-Ireland finals included, may reduce the number of money-spinning replays ... but then, as this report suggests, the GAA has overlooked another priceless currency, its own players, for too long.

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