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Kettle: Oz dates have to change

DUBLIN county board chairman Andy Kettle believes future International Rules tours to Australia should be played in December so as to avoid any repeat of the 'club versus country' chaos that has reigned this week.

The current confusion over whether a handful of Irish tourists will actually travel to Australia over the weekend has prompted Kettle to declare: "It degrades the actual competition. If you are not able to bring your best, what is the point in doing it?"

The answer, as he sees it, is a radical timing overhaul - especially for those series played Down Under.

"If you are going to Australia, you are going in their summer. What's the difference in going in December when everything is over, as going at the end of October?" he asked the Evening Herald.

Aussie Rules chiefs are sure to dismiss the idea, on the grounds of a clash with AFL pre-season training, but the Dublin chairman countered: "You cannot totally suit the Aussies and discommode our own. There has to be some kind of meeting of minds on it. If the series is to continue, they need to certainly look at scheduling," he added. "We are not getting much help to get club games out of the way during the summer anyway, so this is just putting another barrier in the way at end-of-season time."

Club results last weekend threw up a nightmare scenario for Ireland manager Anthony Tohill, who has been left sweating over the availability of several selected players after their clubs continued their advance in delayed county championships.

Most of the focus has centred on his skipper, Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton, who will play for Parnell's in an Evening Herald Dublin SFC quarter-final against Ballymun Kickhams this Saturday. If they lose, he'll be on a later flight to Australia. But what happens if Parnell's win?

Others have found themselves similarly conflicted, including Cluxton's clubmate Colm Begley (Laois), along with Darran O'Sullivan (Kerry), Leighton Glynn (Wicklow), who will definitely be travelling after club matches in football and hurling this weekend, and Finian Hanley (Galway).

"It's hugely unfortunate from a player's point of view - and particularly from Stephen Cluxton's point of view," Kettle admitted. "It's a huge honour to be picked to captain his country and to be left in that position, as to whether you go for club or country ... it leaves a very, very serious decision on an individual."

But Kettle said his board cannot countenance any further postponements to its county championship, already chronically delayed by the "exceptional circumstances" that saw Dublin qualify for four All-Ireland finals (senior and underage) last month.

Insult

The Leinster Council has already given Dublin three extra weeks to allow its SFC winners to compete in the provincial club championship.

"We have no scope," Kettle stressed. "We were very fortunate to be treated as well as we were by Leinster. It was made very clear to us that was a once-off; we would have to try and get our house in order for future years.

"But for us not to complete our championship in the time allowed would be a total insult to the people who helped us out."

Looking forward, he said Dublin hope to be "at the business end" of various inter-county championships over the next couple of years. While there is clearly an onus on them to squeeze in far more club activity during the summer months, Kettle has also called for a greater Croke Park involvement.

"It needs to be looked at from the top as well as from the bottom," he argued.

"Certainly, provincial championships being set by four individual groups with no overall plan seems a little bit strange.

"Okay, they talk about the need to promote the game and to have games continually during the summer -- but what's to say that Ulster or Connacht couldn't be playing away while Leinster has a break? There has to be some kind of innovative thinking on fixtures to get club games away.

"To my mind, the association seems to be watered from the top down rather than from the bottom up, from a growing point of view. The club is the basic unit. If we don't have good clubs, we don't have good inter-county players," he concluded.

KARL LACEY will jet out to Australia with the Irish squad this Saturday following a late call-up for the Donegal defender.