herald

Sunday 23 September 2018

Radical Curran plan to address fixture mayhem

Ballymun boss wants club/county severance

Paul Curran. Picture: Sportsfile
Paul Curran. Picture: Sportsfile

IT sounds like a drastic response to an admittedly perennial problem, and the author of this idea doesn't expect its implementation any year soon, but here goes anyway ... Paul Curran thinks the GAA should seriously consider the complete separation of club and county.

In other words, if your inter-county manager wants you in January, then you stick with him for the year while the club season – including the sacrosanct county championship – continues in your absence.

To some, this radical solution will go against everything the GAA stands for: pride of parish, the primacy of the club. Others will view it as an inevitable short-cut to semi- or full-blown professionalism for the inter-county elite.

Curran doesn't dispute the latter, although he reckons professionalism would come first. He also argues that while the bigger clubs might baulk at the idea of losing a handful or more of their marquee men, players they had nurtured from juvenile, a majority of clubs would welcome a change "for the greater good".

Why? Because the status quo sees the increasing focus on inter-county football play havoc with the club schedule, as we have witnessed this week in Dublin.

"I think the club scene is suffering, and a lot of clubs that don't have county representation are suffering. I think there are a lot of positive things to that theory," Curran told the Herald.

As a former Dublin All-Ireland winner now immersed in club football management, he is well positioned to comment. Earlier this year, he led Ballymun Kickhams to the cusp of All-Ireland glory, only losing out to St Brigid's of Roscommon in a thrilling St Patrick's Day climax. Last Sunday, the 'Mun came within a whisker of defending their Dublin SFC title. And tonight, he will hope they can finish the job against St Vincent's.

When the capital's flagship football final finished level after extra-time last Sunday, it was immediately apparent that a fixtures logjam loomed. The Dublin champions were scheduled to face St Loman's of Westmeath in a Leinster club SFC quarter-final the following Sunday. Having received special dispensation from the Leinster Council two years ago, allowing Dublin to complete their delayed championship and still be represented in the quest for provincial honours, it's fair to surmise Leinster chiefs wouldn't have been too inclined to give them another break.

Not that it came to that: the Dublin board felt compelled to fix its replay for tonight, thereby giving the winners a modicum of time (less than four days) to recover and prepare for a Mullingar road trip.

Curran is not whingeing about playing two high-octane games in four days, with the prospect of three in eight days if they retain their Dublin crown.

"We will not argue at all; we are delighted to be where we are and cannot wait for Wednesday night," he stresses.

"The problem isn't playing as such. If you were finishing a game out, no injuries, you would recover and be able to play. But the problem is picking up injuries at this stage. We have a small enough squad – 26 or 27. Vincent's have 35 or 36 on the squad. So it can boil down to that – injuries, a simple thing.

"But look, we are in good form other than that. We met (on Monday night) and the mood is good, very good. Whatever team we put out we will give it everything, I have no doubt about that."

But what of the bigger picture?

Fixture pile-ups of this ilk, he reasons, are "kind of unusual" and don't happen every year. "But at the same time, it has happened and we have had fixture problems before. They are always around this time of the year.

"The Dublin championship this year was one round less – five rounds instead of six – and still we have a problem," said Curran.

"But look, I don't know how they are going to fix it, to be honest. Whether they play two or three rounds earlier in the year and just leave it at semi-finals and final at this time of year; I don't know if that's ideal."

He can recall winning the 1989 Dublin SFC with his home club, Thomas Davis, when the county final was played on July 1 and it didn't impede their Leinster ambitions: they lost the final to Baltinglass after a replay.

But it's a different landscape today. "I think the inter-county thing now has taken over," he says, before revealing his radical long-term solution, the "complete separation" of club and county.

In this brave new world, Jim Gavin would select his 35 chosen Dubs at the start of the year and they would remain bedded to the county set-up. Meanwhile, the clubs would proceed with their fixtures, unhindered, with plentiful provision for draws and replays.

Curran accepts there would be "a lot of people against it", but maybe not as many as you'd think.

What about those clubs who are effectively punished for nurturing a glut of county-quality players?

 

RADICAL

"How many clubs would argue with that? There are only really the top clubs," the Herald columnist maintains, citing the "greater good of the club".

He expands: "The county could do what they want then in terms of organising their competitions, maybe with more games – a little bit like the RaboDirect (PRO12 in rugby) – with games every week for the inter-county players.

"But look, as long as we have the situation we have, I think we will have problems like this cropping up from time to time. It's just one of those things."

The Ballymun boss readily accepts that his blueprint is a long way off reality.

"Things happen so slowly in the GAA. That would be such a radical change that I couldn't see it happening for a long time.

"But I could see it happening (eventually)," he predicts.

Surely it would hasten the onset of a professional or semi-pro set-up for the inter-county game?

"That will probably come first and, if professionalism comes in, then it will be easier to separate the two – like rugby did," he concludes.

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