Donegal GAA chiefs are aiming to have the new league format of the RTE Raidio na Gaeltachta senior club championship completed by the first week in July, and the championship ready for the knock-out stages by August.
That is the ambitious plan of the County’s Competition Control Committee following Sunday’s draw of the new ‘Champions League’ style format of the championship.
In the plan, which is only in a draft form at the moment and is due to go before a full meeting of the CCC tonight (Thursday), it is hoped to have the three league game format played ahead of the Ulster final, which is fixed for July 21st.
This will clear the way to play the quarter-finals of the championship in August, and have the championship down to the last four for the beginning of September.
“We have spoken to Rory Gallagher of the team management and we have a draft fixture programme drawn up but it has to go before the full CCC for discussion. It won’t be finalised and released to the clubs until it receives the approval of the full CCC,” Danny McNamee, chairman of the CCC, told the Democrat.
However, as is always the case, the CCC chairman admitted it is all contingent on how Donegal fares in the Ulster championship and their eagerly awaited mouthwatering meeting with Tyrone.
And there is also the matter of the All-Ireland finals of Comortas Peil Na Gaeltachta, the real elephant in the room when it comes to the playing of the championship in recent years.
Donegal play Tyrone on May 26th, and should Donegal prevail against Mickey Harte and his men, the All-Ireland champions’ next championship outing is on June 23rd, against either Derry or Down.
Should Donegal lose to the O’Neill County, it does not ease the pressure on the CCC as it does not free up any more weekends to any great extent.
This is especially so if Donegal were to be drawn in the preliminary round of the All-Ireland Qualifiers which are fixed for Saturday, June 22nd, the day before the Ulster semi-final. The first round proper in the Qualifiers throws in the following weekend with a full programme of games.
Going on all the above, it would seem the CCC have little choice but to play the first round of games in the championship on the second weekend in May, (May 11th/12), just inside the 13 day rule period ahead of the clash with Tyrone.
They could play the second round of games on the weekend of June 8th/9th with the final round of games on the weekend of July 6th/7th, both just inside the 13 day rule.
The June Bank Holiday weekend is a possibility, but that would mean that a full round could not be played because Donegal will have at least one senior side playing in the All-Ireland Gaeltacht finals in An Rinn, Waterford.
Gaoth Dobhair, as the reigning All-Ireland champions, will definitely be involved along with the winners of the Donegal title.
There is a possibility if Gaoth Dobhair were the only team involved in the All-Ireland Gaeltacht, that their first round clash with Killybegs could be played on May 10/12th weekend with all the other first round games taking place on the June Bank Holiday weekend.
The July 6th/7th date is contingent on Donegal reaching the Ulster final.
So at this stage it is a matter of planning for a number of scenarios and tweaking as the inter-county championship unfolds.
Nothing new in that but I think the one lesson from last season is that nobody is in favour of a repeat of the championship being played off in a mad rush on consecutive weeks to make the Ulster Club Championship deadline.
Regardless of how the ball rolls, and no matter which route Donegal takes, the CCC’s plan of a pre-Ulster final deadline for completion of the league format of the championship is a pretty ambitious one.
Meanwhile, the main talking point from Sunday’s draw remains firmly on Group Four. The section contains three of the championship contenders, St. Michael’s, Kilcar, Glenswilly along with Bundoran.
The other interesting feature about the new format is that the draw was for a two year cycle with the top two drawn in each group having home advantage for the first season, with the fixtures reversed in year two.
Among the mouth-watering first round games will be Kilcar v Glenswilly in Towney; Ardara v Four Masters in Kentucky; MacCumhaill’s v Glenfin in MacCumhaill Park and Gaoth Dobhair v Killybegs in Magheragallon.