WITH the ongoing postponement of returning to training and playing at inter-county level, there are lots of concerns for clubs.
Clubs and club players are fearful of whether they will get the chance to play at all this year, and if so, will it just be an ‘add-on’ at the end of the year when inter-county action ends?
There is also the added problem of unfinished championships at both inter-county and club level for Cork, which is making an already challenging games calendar even more challenging.
But Feargal McGill, the GAA Director of Club, Player and Games Administration, has moved to try and alleviate the fears of clubs and club players.
He said the organisation is committed to ensuring that any delay to the inter-county season will not have a negative effect on club championship games.
With Level 5 restrictions still in place and with the official resumption of inter-county training not confirmed and games unlikely to start until the end of March, there is already some discussion about the proposed finish to the All-Ireland final in July.
But in a message to clubs and club players Mr McGill said: “There will be a club season. Regardless of whether the inter-county season is delayed or not, our intention is not to compromise on the time available to clubs.
“If the inter-county season was to get delayed, we would look at pushing the concluding stages of the AIB Provincial and All-Ireland Championships into January 2022.
“This would ensure the overall period of time available in the calendar for counties to stage their internal club championships would not be negatively affected by any delay in getting the inter-county season up and running.”
The pandemic led to the split season last year and it will run again this year, but the Allianz Leagues were due to start this month to ensure the programme ran as smoothly as possible.
With that date now pushed back, and the possibility of it going back as far as April rather than March, the task of keeping both inter-county and clubs happy is becoming harder and harder.
McGill went on to say: “Counties will still be free to organise and play club games without their county players in cup or league competitions during this time, with a definite post July calendar in place for when AIB Club Championships would be taking place.
Now that Level 5 restrictions are extended into February and possibly even March, Croke Park will have contingency plans for how inter-county competition formats may need to be reconstituted to finish on time.”
He has given the impression that the inter-county programme will be looking at and possibly changed rather than run on indefinitely at the expense of the time available for club championships, and that any calendar overruns will be kept to the bare minimum.
He also stated that it was important to remember that a number of 2020 club competitions and county finals at senior, intermediate, and junior levels remain uncompleted, and these will have to be factored into the overall fixture plans in each county in 2021.
He added: “One thing I would ask of club players is to be patient. In introducing a split season we are talking about changing a culture and a way of doing things and it will take time for county boards to adjust competition structures and timings.
"They will not all get it right on the first go; but over a period of two or three years, if the split season is persisted with, I am hugely confident that counties will be able to put in place an improved club programme and greater certainty for our club players.”
Club matches are not permitted during heightened Covid-19 restrictions with only elite level sport including senior inter-county Gaelic games being permitted once there is an easing of the current lockdown. If the inter-county programme was to be delayed significantly, fixture makers are looking at the concluding stages of the AIB All-Ireland club championships moving into January 2022.
But like everything else in the pandemic, a rapidly changing situation being dictated to by the level of virus in the community means that all dates will be reviewed as the need arises.
The same principle applies at underage level, but with the switch to U17 at club level, it will mean that it becomes easier to run senior and minor games at the same time.
U17 will only be allowed to play at U21/20 level, or possibly U19 in the future, meaning that both Rebel Óg and the senior board will be more or less free to run competitions to suit their own schedules.
Up to this year, minor players at U18 could be involved with senior, intermediate or junior sides, but that won’t be the case going forward.