Thursday, March 27, 2008

Making time for GAA club games

Sean over at GAA 2008 (hurrah! another GAA blogger) wonders if there's any merit in Clare's suggestion that the All-Ireland football and hurling finals should be completed by the second week of September.
Bringing the All-Ireland finals back one or two weeks was first mooted in the GAA's Club Fixtures paper, which was circulated in July 2007 to a number of Provincial Councils and County Boards. The feedback to this proposal and others was included in a report launched in October. Needless to say, the response to the proposals was far from conclusive.
The esteemed response of the counties is that there is strong support for a shorter inter-county season in term of facilitating club fixtures, but even greater concern about agreeing competition structures on a long-term basis to allow for an overall fixture schedule programme to be  developed. The "major concern", with such a proposal, is that, "because of the importance of media coverage to the promotion of our games, we would lose out to other sports by reducing the length of the inter-county season". Therefore, moving the All-Ireland finals back by a week/Clare's proposal is the "best" that could be considered. 
So, the club players can sit around all summer and wait until there's a good two inches of muck before being let out, because Gaelic games must be promoted in the media? I don't understand how having a week less to the All-Ireland Final would greatly inhibit the promotion of Gaelic games on television and in the news. Sounds like the GAA is more preoccupied with marketing than looking after its own members. 
Surely, the best way of promoting the games is to have the inter-county stars on television one week and then playing with their clubs, where people can see them "up close and personal" and "in the flesh", the next? But, then there's the 13 day and 20 day rules, whereby County Players are freed from inter-club championships during those periods prior to championship games and All-Ireland finals respectively, which effectively prohibits that. It's hard to see how that could be tightened up further without over-burdening the players. [I couldn't help notice the French international rugby players (I don't know if it was the same for the other international teams) playing with their clubs between the international games in the Six Nations tournament. But, they are professionals and contracted to pay with their clubs, so that's another matter entirely.
Antrim's not the only county where it's a problem. In Meath in 2007 the football club championship started on 15 April. The second match was played two months later on 24 June, after Meath's defeat to Dublin in a replay. Meath's run in the qualifiers, which took them to the All-Ireland semi-final (enough said about that!), meant that there were no further championship games until 24 August. That's just three championship games in five months. It's dispiriting and demoralizing for dedicated club players who are committed to training hard. 
Something urgently needs to be done to solve this. Maybe the Clare proposals are a good start, even if just to demonstrate that the GAA is serious about making a start to tackle the problem and give some much needed attention to the clubs. 

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