Why doesn't the GAA respect some of the best grades like U21 hurling?

Why doesn't the GAA respect some of the best grades like U21 hurling?
Fr O'Neill's Billy Dunne celebrates his goal against Midleton in the 2018 U21 P1 hurling decider. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

THERE was a time when GAA players, clubs, supporters got some respite from playing activities in the month of December and maybe a week or two in January.

It was only right and proper that this should happen, every sporting code has some bit of a closed season.

But a glance at the list of fixtures over the coming weeks suggest that there will be little or no closed season for those involved.

Take the situation here in Cork and in the province.

The Munster Council have made it be known that they have no objection to games being played in their hurling league and McGrath Cup pre-Christmas if the counties so desire So, there’s a strong possibility that the Cork hurlers will be playing a Munster League game a week before Christmas or a few days after it.

Here on Leeside, one of the most important competitions under the auspices of the County Board, the Premier U21 hurling final is down for decision on Saturday December 21, four days before Christmas Day.

One totally accepts that the County Board personnel are doing their level best to try to get to grips with their massive list of fixtures and, to be fair, they are doing a superb job in most cases.

But this U21 grade seems to be a problem child for years now and one can go back to 2005 when the final, a great final as it turned out, featuring Douglas and Erin’s Own was played on December 18.

The situation in recent times has not been helped with the introduction of a losers round and with a lot of players in this grade still involved with other grades, it’s making it much more difficult to get games played.

Do we really need a back door, as they call it in the U21 grade?

Shane Murphy, Ballincollig, battles Denis Coghlan, Courcey Rovers, in last year's U21 P2 Hurling final. Picture: Jim Coughlan
Shane Murphy, Ballincollig, battles Denis Coghlan, Courcey Rovers, in last year's U21 P2 Hurling final. Picture: Jim Coughlan

To the Munster League, the McGrath Cup and the rest of these competitions, do we really need them anymore?

Apart from the McKenna Cup up North there’s no great appetite for them and the attendance levels are paltry.

The inter-county hurling season closes down now on the third Sunday in August with the All-Ireland final And the start up time for it again is the month of December with these pre-season competitions.

Here’s a statistic that might interest you.

In January of this year 76 inter-county games were played, 99 were played in February, 89 in March, April was closed down for club activity, there were 56 games in May, 66 in June, 18 in July, seven in August and just two in September.

So in three of the best months of the year, July, August and September you had a total of 27 inter-county games whilst in January, February and March, of the three worst months of the year you had 264 inter-county games.

Does that make sense?

It’s not going to happen, of course, but should the GAA revert to playing national league games in the month November, maybe two rounds.

Some counties would be without players who are still in their club championship at local and provincial level but should that make a whole pile of difference.

It’s all about trying to get the balance between club and inter-county right and it’s a massive headache for the association.

Clubs are getting more and more frustrated with what’s going on and the balance between club and inter-county seems to be all wrong.

Very shortly the GAA’S Fixture Calendar Review Task Force will introduce their recommendation on how things might be bettered.

Their findings will be very interesting but will they make a whole pile of difference?

There should be some sort of a break from the middle of December to the middle of January and there certainly should be no major games being played four days before Christmas.

One fully accepts the complexity of the hugely demanding schedule but there has to be a better way.

Last year’s Premier U21 hurling final between Midleton and Fr O’Neill’s was the best game of the year by a distance.

That 2005 final between Douglas and Erin’s Own was a cracker too and maybe this year’s final will be one too.

But the timing needs to be better.

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