Fixture backlog a concern in Cork when you factor in dual demands

Éire Óg have two championships to finish after abrupt end to 2020 campaign
Fixture backlog a concern in Cork when you factor in dual demands

Kanturk's Lorcan O'Neill and Cill na Martra's Seánie O'Foirréidh in a tangle. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

ONE line, in particular, jumped out of the page in the GAA’s annual report from Director General Tom Ryan during the week.

It wasn’t anything to do with the association’s huge financial losses incurred during 2020 when games were played behind closed doors.

It preceded the actual start of the inter-county championship season last winter and concerned the abrupt ending of the club campaign nationwide.

“It is a matter of real regret that we didn’t manage to finish the championships in every county and I regret also that this was largely our own fault,” Ryan wrote.

He intimated 11 senior county finals have yet to be played after club action came to an abrupt end in October following a sudden rise in Covid-19 cases around the country.

One of those, the Bon Secours premier football showdown between Nemo Rangers and Castlehaven, is in Cork, where only the senior hurling championship was brought to a successful conclusion with Blackrock’s triumphant return to the winners’ enclosure.

Castlehaven's Brian Hurley is tackled by St Finbarr's Colm Scully during the Bon Secours Premier Football semi-final Páirc Uí Rinn. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Castlehaven's Brian Hurley is tackled by St Finbarr's Colm Scully during the Bon Secours Premier Football semi-final Páirc Uí Rinn. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

That leaves seven more finals, three in hurling and the entire quartet of football championships still to be played out.

And that doesn’t include the popular and most difficult of them all to win, the county junior titles at A grade in both football and hurling.

Factor in Éire Óg’s fine achievement in qualifying for two finals in the Bon Secours senior A football championship and the premier A grade in hurling and it adds to the degree of difficulty in compiling a fixture schedule for 2021.

And considering the outcomes of those two finals will also impact on the grades above them with the winners earning promotion to higher levels, then you begin to appreciate the enormity of the task involved.

The junior championships are even more problematic because of the different stages of progress across the divisions.

Some are more advanced than others with champions decided in some, but there is still a job of work to be completed to even begin the process of the county phase in both codes.

Ryan’s self-blame analysis cuts immediately to the chase about a return to action of either club or inter-county, but particularly the former.

He said the GAA accepted responsibility for failing to complete the club championships in 2020, adding the decision ‘weighed heavily’ on him.

“Faced with the health risk and reputational damage from a number of high-profile post-match events, we had no alternative, but to suspend games in the remaining counties,” Ryan wrote.

“That decision weighed heavily on me. Our job it to promote games, not to stop them, but there was a greater imperative that we couldn’t shy away from.

“I sincerely hope those championships can be concluded,” he added.

And it’s those social media images of fellows out of their heads roaring and screaming in pubs celebrating county final glory which still resonate in the public’s thinking.

SAFETY FIRST

It’s why Government health advisors, relevant ministers and their departments will only allow club games to return when it’s safe to do so.

And that, sadly, remains a good distance out even with pending vaccination programmes speeding up the process of providing a barrier to the disease from spreading through the general population.

The country must return to a Level 2 series of restrictions before club sport is made possible again, unless, which is most unlikely, the Government supplies a special exemption.

May is considered the earliest date for a return to games with inter-county the more obvious starting position though that will also depend on the vaccination roll-out, but less so compared to clubs.

There’s a fine balancing act to be performed in compiling a master fixtures plan for the country, incorporating inter-county and club players, with so many balls being juggled.

The GAA needs to hear turnstiles ticking once more to generate badly-needed funds and that’s why some officials point to an autumn return for inter-county.

Filling dates with club games before then, however, is highly problematic for the reasons outlined and having a long spell of nothing during the best weather of the year is not worth countenancing at this juncture.

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