Once, while doing a column on the curiously dubbed time of the sporting year known as the transfer window, pertaining to association football in most corners of the club, the following headline was employed: ‘Almost Time To Take Down The Tent’. Inference being that much of what transpired at those particular times of year was akin to a circus.
Similar sentiments could, without fear or favour, be justifiably applied to (worryingly growing) parts of the GAA calendar. In journalism, there exists the silly season. Another odd description affixed to the time of year when happenings hitherto considered unremarkable become big news owing to a dearth of what’s considered mainstream stuff going on.
Again, the GAA has its own adapted version of this. Right about now and until roughly the end of January, it tends to be in full swing. It’s the time when the suit-clad set hog centre stage. Yes, the great phenomena that are the provincial club championships tend to be in full swing. Unless, however, your own club or the one representing your county is involved, for many, this is when GAA matters – notionally at least – wind down.
The suits usually procrastinate over the manufactured necessity to get meddling with the rulebook and end up with some class of fudge. Usually, the fiddling revolves around some class of hardly required fidgeting with the playing rules.
They’ve borrowed the sword off Damocles again. Now, mind you, rather than a carving up and/or realignment of the governance of on-field activities, it appears entire competition structures are in for some surgery. Yet, chestnuts yours truly has been roasting for a long time – relating to the ‘Mark’, the limitation of hand passes and the extensive rolling out of a TMO system seem set to go unaltered.
It’s unlikely the black card will be introduced to hurling either, even though it should. For now, alas, it appears competition mechanics are the buzz case. With the most radical ramifications reported referring the Club Championships, one of the brightest beacons the GAA can call on.
Logic attests, concluding these competitions within a calendar year with ease the burden on players. A noble idea. Alternative logic intimates, mind, that such a move would, in fact lead to an even more chaotic schedule for players with a logjam of fixtures being foisted in before year end.
Admittedly, no one dictum is going to alleviate acrimony over fixtures. That said, gut feeling is there has to be something better than this proposal. In fact, does it not fly in the face of the already contentious matter that is the closed season? At least with matters as they currently stand, club players can at least expect some form of break from around now until mid February at the earliest. Were the Club Championships to conclude prior to Christmas, where does the opportunity for that break occur?
Culling certain competitions will most likely be the means by which fixture congestion will be tackled. Understandable in one sense, but, does that not fly in the face of the near constant clamour for a more structured and regular calendar of games for club players? If events are dispensed with at county level, surely they’d go for clubs too?
Before going further, I will openly acknowledge that something must be done regarding fixtures. Cognisance of the fact that one young player known to me will have – by the end of the season – lined out for nine different teams underlines this.
It is, undoubtedly, such circumstances that see players pick up long term injuries. Look no further than Shane O’Rourke, for it seems certain that wear and tear played a big part in him missing nearly three years through injury. However, it is an earnest belief that there must be a much simpler and better way than what’s proposed.
The GAA have already shamefully abandoned things like the Tommy Murphy Cup and – more or less – the Interprovincial Championships. The International Rules Series – and so, sadly, the Cormac McAnallen Cup, seems destined for a similar. Any deviation from how the Club Championships are run would not only be bad for those competitions, a void on St Patrick’s Day caused by the shabby treatment of the Railway Cup would be reopened.
There is, of course, an onus on county committees to run their competitions better. Striking a balance between having too many teams in championships and yet providing adequate games for club players is the crux. Every story has two sides. While I would be vehemently opposed to knockout championships at club level, running them in, say, smaller groups eliminates longevity. And maybe, indeed, places greater store on subsidiary competitions within a county.
I can’t help feeling there’s a degree of delusion or at best confusion as to what causes the fixture malaise. In my view, it’s certainly not the Club Championships. Are the third level competitions not the elephant in the room here? What purpose do they serve, besides letting colleges brag amongst each other? It is they that should be stripped from the fixtures.