GAA should be brave and go for an open draw for this year's All-Ireland series

GAA should be brave and go for an open draw for this year's All-Ireland series
Matthew Donnelly of Tyrone sees his effort on goal saved by Mark White of Cork during the Super 8s at Croke Park last summer. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

IT could resemble a scene from the Vatican when Croke Park officials are expected to unveil their master inter-county championship programme tomorrow.

It’ll be like a meeting of the College of Cardinals in Papal Conclave in Rome voting on the next Pope.

You know the line — Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope) —delivered from the balcony in St Peter’s Square.

Will we have GAA President John Horan, in his white smoke moment, uttering the immortal words ‘habemus fixtures’?

He better have because every player in the country, from the ordinary junior to the inter-county star, needs some degree of certainty to help cope with the pressure of this Covid-19 pandemic.

And they’re more than cheesed off at not knowing when they’ll be playing championship again, so Croke Park, help lift that burden.

Their deliberations will be scanned with greater scrutiny here in Cork than in other counties, particularly the format of the championships.

Hurling will revert to the traditional provincial knock-out system with Cork starting at the quarter-final or semi-final stage depending on the draw.

The popular round-robin series will have to be shelved for one season while football will remain the same, though with no Super 8s and the four provincial champions progressing to All-Ireland semi-finals.

Cork are scheduled to meet Kerry in the Munster semi-final in a season-defining encounter for both counties.

Unlike in hurling, there’s unlikely to be a second game for losing first-game sides.

And those advocating an open draw of 32/31 teams are set to be disappointed, too.

Former Kerry great Tomás Ó Sé mentioned the 1984 Centenary Cup recently.

It was a one-off knock-out competition played in April and May with Meath beating Monaghan by 0-10 to 0-8 in the final.

Cork lost to Derry 0-7 to 0-6 in Ballinascreen and Kerry also fell to the Ulster county in round 2, 2-11 to 1-13 after extra-time.

Such was its apparent success that Ford sponsored a second open draw competition in 1985 when Kerry defeated Cork in the final.

Ó Sé described it as the perfect opportunity for the GAA to be brave and break with accepted tradition.

That Ford Cup resided in his uncle Páidí’s pub in Ventry for many years afterwards. “It’s still there as far as I know, a big wooden base on it.

“I’d love to have seen the championship go the same way this year, a full-on national knockout,” he commented.

Cork officials are set to digest the implications of the fixtures plan before releasing their own, which is likely to start in mid-July.

Inter-county players, through the Gaelic Players Association, have not dismissed the notion of an open draw in this unique season.

Áine O'Gorman sanitizes prior to a Peamount United squad training session. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Áine O'Gorman sanitizes prior to a Peamount United squad training session. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Paul Flynn, the CEO, outlined their wish-list. “Players want the final two rounds of the national football league to be completed, and followed by a championship in which every county is guaranteed at least two games.

“If there isn’t space in the calendar to guarantee teams two games, players want to stage the 2020 championship without any provincial competitions and instead proceed with an open draw involving all counties.

“This, they say, is the ‘only available option’ to “ensure fairness across the board.

“Players also want to be allowed to train with their county teams once they have exited their club championships. “

The GAA have set September 14 as the date from which counties can resume training.

Players said any inter-county training that takes place before that date must be covered by the GAA Injury Benefit Scheme.

And they are also calling for a minimum four-week window between the end of club championships and their first inter-county game.

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