Cork GAA clubs getting into the swing of this new summer championship

Cork GAA clubs getting into the swing of this new summer championship
Shane Kingston practices his golf swing with Brendan Black, Nathan Walsh, Finbarr Kearney, Gerry O'Brien and Aidan O'Connor at the launch of the Douglas GAA Golf Classic, October 1-2 at Douglas Golf Club. Picture: Larry Cummins

WHEN Faythe Harriers went into a Wexford senior relegation final last September, they were at least able to draw on past experience, which the Harriers put to good use against Oylegate-Glenbrien; it was their third win in the previous six seasons at that nerve-wracking stage of the competition.

A big club drawing from a large population in Wexford town would naturally expect to be doing better so they returned this season with a whole new level of ambition – a desire to promote young players and the appointment of former Waterford manager Derek McGrath to help oversee the project.

Their season ended in the quarter-final against an experienced Shelmaliers side but the Harriers were still content with the progress made in 11 months.

“At the end of it, it is a positive finish to the year for us in some respects,” said Lee Chin when interviewed on TG4 afterwards. “It’s been great to get a championship and it’s been great for our lads, the fact that they are so young, just to get some form of championship in. It was a great competition for us.” 

Wexford were hammered for running a blitz-type championship, with the final fixed for this weekend, before the Wexford club football championship then begins. Yet McGrath also said afterwards that he met “nothing but positivity” for the format.

In that context, McGrath also believes that the GPA's proposal for a split season will be met with mass approval given the benefits to club and county players.

"I would have picked up during the five years I was involved with Waterford that that's what they like,” said McGrath in an interview with Michael Verney in the Irish Independent. “They love having December and January off, the boys can travel or go where they want, come into a pre-season in February and get going in March.

"Then have your club scene from July or August until October. At least they'll know when they are playing. The April club month has been a disaster - because you are playing two matches and then you're back."

The GPA will present their plan to the GAA’s national fixtures review taskforce tomorrow evening (Wednesday). Former national fixtures committee chairman, Micheál Martin – who is a member of the taskforce, and the current Wexford vice-chairman – said recently that the GPA proposal will be given due consideration.

Martin even admitted that despite what was outlined recently by the CPA (Club Players Association), the taskforce were very much of the opinion that change was required and, that there was an openness to change before Covid-19. “I imagine it hasn’t done anything to change that appreciation,” said Martin. “It may even have brought a greater appreciation of that.” 

 Three weeks ago, the CPA set out seven proposals to the GAA in a bid to end the ongoing issues with fixtures, and the culture of anger and frustration it promotes within the club game.

The first three proposals are at the heart of what the CPA see as critical to changing that culture of “drop out, disillusionment and dissent”; draft a national games program by designating periods to club, inter-county and third level; once the designated periods are agreed, design competitions to fit within those time windows; those structures should then be set out in a manner that will ensure that there will be no conflict for players between the various groups. 

“The very future of the GAA which we all love is at stake,” concluded the CPA statement.

Blackrock's Ross Coleman breaks from Inniscarra's Sean Sheehan during the Co-Op Superstores Cork PIHC at Ballinora. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Blackrock's Ross Coleman breaks from Inniscarra's Sean Sheehan during the Co-Op Superstores Cork PIHC at Ballinora. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The CPA have always been consistent on their aims for a split season. It seems like a logical way to sort out the fixtures mess, especially when the last few weeks of club action have offered sufficient evidence of the benefits of complete clarity with club fixtures, and the availability of all players.

The overall benefit to the club game has been massive, especially when so many players are getting a sustained run of matches in good weather and on excellent pitches, something almost unheard of for the vast majority of club players in recent times.

But could a split season work for the GAA? Is it, in theory, far too radical? Naturally, there are reservations about dividing the calendar into club and county blocks, for any amount of reasons; club players might not be with their clubs for up to six months; playing the All-Ireland finals in late June or early July could be seen as conceding far too much promotional opportunities to its rivals.

However, there is a counter-argument to those points; apart from a few weeks in April, some inter-county players aren’t seen with their clubs until August-September, which is effectively more than six months away from their clubs; the GAA could use that window from July onwards to sell the club game better, especially with greater TV exposure.

Yet that would still be a hard sell when so much of the wider attraction to a TV audience – and the money tied up in those deals - is based on the allure of the inter-county game.

The 2020 season may be unique because of totally unique circumstances; apart from constantly having their county players available, one of the main reasons clubs have so many players training is because no-one is travelling abroad for the summer. But club players have never had it so good, and it’s easy to see why they could get used to having such certainty and clarity around club fixtures.

And why they certainly won’t want to go back to the way things were.

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