ALL bets are off.
Covid-19 is going to be with us all for some time, whether we like it or not. The reality that we enjoyed before the virus came into our lives is unlikely to return until such time as a vaccine is in place.
In saying that, it is inevitable that the current restrictions will be loosened somewhat.
We don’t know when this will happen and we don’t know what the extent of these reductions will be, even if that means that we will all be wearing face masks and still practicing social distancing measures in public.
The hope is that sport will be a major part of this process of normal life resumption, and at a local and national level this would mean the return of Gaelic Games.
It is still much too early to be guessing what the GAA calendar year is going to end up looking like, but it is safe to assume that, if it does go ahead, it will end up being very different to what we expected back when the national leagues were in full swing in February.
Obviously, the longer it takes to flatten this coronavirus curve then the less likely it is that we will have sport in 2020 at all. In a way we must start looking at everything backwards. If ‘normality’ does not resume until November or December then the year is effectively gone. If it is September or October then a few small one-off events can take place.
With respect to the Cork Club Championships in hurling and football we can absolutely 100% forget the structures and systems that were set out for this year. Sure, they can be rolled out again in 2021, but for this year, the Cork County Board will have to get creative.
One of the easiest solutions available to them would be to make all championships, at all grades, as close to straight knock out as possible. Obviously, with awkward numbers in some championships like 12, 14 and 20 that is easier said than done, but it can be done.
The easiest way is to make brand new draws and engineer the championships so that you get to a stage where you have eight or 16 teams left as soon as possible. Once you achieve that then you have straight knockout.
The Premier Senior Hurling Championship is a bit awkward in this respect, with the colleges and divisional sides making it difficult to whittle the numbers down to a manageable number.
The easiest way would be to give the 12 clubs a bye into the ‘last 16’ and then let the eight colleges/divisional sides play a game each against each other, with the winners completing the last 16 line-up.
This system would see the county champions crowned after either four or five games.
Of course, the problem here is that half the club sides then get one championship match in the year, which is not ideal.
There are other options.
There are many championship systems that can be formulated, but there is one, in particular, that would take a club, college or division a maximum of five or six matches to win; where every club side is guaranteed two games, and with nine of the 12 clubs getting at least three games.
The starting point for this structure would be to separate the eight divisional and college sides and effectively let them play their own little knockout tournament. There would be no backdoor for these representative sides, but the upside would be that the ‘winner’ of this side of the draw would be guaranteed a place in the semi-final.
Eight teams would reduce to four and then to two, with the last team standing after three rounds reaching the last four.
That would then leave three semi-final berths up for grabs, with the real fun starting now, trying to devise a system where you whittle 12 clubs down to three while ensuring everyone gets a second bite of the cherry.
The 12 teams start by playing each other in round one, where you get six winners and six losers.
Those six losers then play each other, in round two, with the loser of these games being eliminated.
Meanwhile, the six winners from round one all play each other in round three, with the winners advancing to what would effectively be quarter-final ties. The quarter-final being round five.
In round four the three losers of these round three clashes would then play the three winners of the round two games, with the winners here reaching the quarter-finals.
That would leave these three teams to play-off against the three sides who had already qualified from round three, with these games being round five, i.e., three quarter-finals. Once these round five ties have been completed there would then be only three clubs left standing, along with one division/college side.
Simple as that!
Obviously other factors have to be considered, like how the inter-county season plays out. If there are a limited number of weekends to play, then this may seriously impact on what is left over to all the county boards to conclude their business.
As a starting point, the above structures would be worth consideration.