With the National League on a three week break and the 2014 Donegal squad on a well deserved break in the heat of Dubai it gives a bit of time to consider what will happen with club league and championship fixtures for the coming year.
There has been a lot written in the national media since the turn of the year on club fixtures and how many believe that the club player is playing a very poor second fiddle when it comes to playing our games.
Of course we are no strangers to this as for years clubs have being asked to play the majority of their games either in the early part of the year or in the dead of winter. This carry on of playing our championship week after week needs to stop. I have always been of the opinion we don’t ask the fittest and best prepared county players to play week after week when it comes to the provincial championships. Yes, they have to play week in week out when it comes to the Qualifiers. However, the Qualifiers are never played at the same intensity as the championship. Also when it comes to the quarter, semi-final and final the teams are always given a break and even if the final is a draw the fixtures committee in Croke Park don’t tell the lads we will do it again next Sunday; no they leave it a couple of weeks.
The excuse given by many county boards over the last few years for delaying the playing of the championship is they like the final to coincide with the start of the provincial club championship. That may be acceptable if you’re in the All-Ireland final but it’s common place now for most counties not to run off their club championship until the middle of October which is mad considering that clubs start training in January for the start of their league in March.
It may be easy to come up with a proposal to suit our own county but where counties have to contend with both hurling and football county teams and both club championships it may not be that straight forward. What’s needed is a bit of leadership. We need a proper championship structure put in place at intercounty level.
A recent proposal to play the All-Ireland finals a week earlier is like putting a band aid on a broken leg. It needs to be more radical than that. Of course the traditionalists will argue that we must play the finals in September because that’s the way we always did it. However, that day is long gone.
Now many people have to pay Sky to watch the Qualifiers so where is the tradition in that. Like I said, it needs to be a radical change.
Over the years there has been a lot of lip service given to clubs. On too many occasions I have read about one President or another or indeed a high ranking paid official talking to us about the club being the life and soul of the organisation but a lot of it is exactly that, just talk.
The GAA like to play on the fact that we are an “amateur “ body and we are run by volunteers who can decide on the direction the organisation can take in the future. You will find that most, if not all major decisions, are taken by those in control in Croke Park. If a proposal for the All-Ireland finals were to be played before the end of August can you imagine how many committees and reports would be demanded before we would be told that we can’t really do that; it wouldn’t work for one reason or another.
To change anything you need to have a hunger to change the way things are done. People in power, regardless whether it’s in a sporting organisation or in government, don’t like to give away that so-called power they think they possess over others.
What many people, who may not be as familiar with club teams or the way clubs are run, will not realise is that many club teams are made up of students who, if they don’t have a summer job, will head away to get work. We all know about losing players in Donegal with the levels of unemployment at a national high so without the students many club teams are unable to field, relying on minor players to make up the fifteen and there’s a feeling within those bodies who are concerned about player burnout that no U-18s should be playing at senior level.
I don’t disagree with that in theory but many clubs are struggling with numbers and a decision like that could break them, especially if the current trend of players leaving rural areas to go in search of work continues.
It is expected that the club All-Ireland finals will be played within the calendar year; so there is another couple of weekends we are going have to find. I don’t believe that much will happen with club fixtures in the next few years. The GAA have a history of moving very slowly when it comes to change and with the GAA showing increased revenue with the present format they certainly will not want to risk anything that would jeopardise that.
After all, what’s more important.