Tuesday 17 September 2019

Calendar year plan spells bad news for dual counties

Hop Ball

Brendan Furlong

The task of fitting the entire club season into a calendar year has been outlined, but it has done nothing to allay the fears of the dual county.

This coupled with the Hurling Review report has added to the problems likely to face clubs should those findings be implemented, as the proposal to run off the All-Ireland club championship in the calendar year is likely to lead to dual counties such as Wexford missing out on the provincial club campaign.

Wexford can only look to 2014 as an example where the county failed to have a representative in the provincial Senior football championship, while they only made the hurling equivalent with a week to spare.

The recommendations of the Minor review committee are also being championed, chiefly that only players in their final year of Minor, over the age of 17, be allowed play in adult competition.

This may be a move to protect the youth and not have players of a tender age participating in adult competition, but in the short term it will leave many clubs unable to field second teams. That could lead to many adult players being left without a team or game time.

One can appreciate the need to protect players from the physical demands of so many games outside their age group, but one cannot understand how in an effort to boost game time at 17 and under, it is being mooted to have an All-Ireland Under-17 championship.

For several years we have heard so much regarding the protection of young players, but the introduction of a further inter-county under-age championship doesn't make sense as it would take up valuable club time.

The majority of clubs will have players who will fall into the Under 17 category. These players would be ruled out of adult competition, leaving many rural clubs in particular unable to field second teams.

The committee's proposal to overhaul the current Minor schedule and finish all club Minor competitions by October is commendable, but will it be sustainable in the eyes of the clubs?

Plans to finish all competitions within the calendar year would lead to a major sea-change within many counties, particularly those of the dual variety.

The games have evolved, with the introduction of the qualifier system leaving less time for club activity. And with the back door for beaten provincial finalists at Minor level, realistically it is becoming more obvious that counties will find it difficult to complete championships in time for the provincial club campaign.

To entertain any hope of being ready, each province would need to look at their subsidiary competitions, which as they stand are now no more than glorified challenge games.

The National League must come in for scrutiny, with Central Council looking to have both hurling and football played on the same weekend, which in turn would bring forward the knockout stages, leaving time for counties to begin their championships earlier.

Elements of the report are fine but does it stretch far enough to accommodate the club, the key component of the Association? The G.A.A. has been using a fixtures system without any real change for years, but the move to a calendar year is far reaching unless radical changes are made at inter-county level.

Protecting the player Under-17 is admirable but there are more significant issues facing the G.A.A., both at under-age and adult levels. The number of hurling under-age clubs forced to amalgamate is increasing, while clubs are also finding it difficult to accommodate extended squad players with a second team. The introduction of the Under-17 rule would leave a number of clubs either with just one adult team or being forced to amalgamate.

The G.A.A. are obsessed with player welfare and player burn-out, but the demands that will be placed to complete all competitions within a calendar year will add to the growing problems facing clubs and club players, particularly those outside the inter-county system.

One is looking forward to the Wexford debate at County Board level as, being a leading dual county, their decision will be watched with interest by counties throughout the land.

Clubs in Wexford must now take centre stage in this discussion before a decision is arrived at. But a word of caution: the calendar year is only suitable to counties who concentrate on a single code, while the Under-17 proposal is a non-runner.

Wexford People

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