independent

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Scheduling of club games in April the acid test for fixtures

On the Line with Alan Aherne

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

The pre-occupation at local level since September has centred on the completion of the domestic championships, with the last of the big ones to be decided on Saturday when St. Anne's meet Crossabeg-Ballymurn in The Courtyard Ferns Intermediate hurling final.

After that it will be down to the three Under-21 football competitions - Premier 'A', the new Premier 'B' grade, and Roinn 1.

With a decent run of results and no draws, the latter championship should be finished on the last weekend of this month, whereas by my reckoning it will be December 16-17 at the earliest before the Premier action will conclude.

And if, as we all hope, both Starlights and St. Martin's make progress on the AIB Leinster Club scene, then at least seven days if not more will be added to the estimate for completion of the top grade.

With such a wealth of domestic activity ongoing, there hasn't been much time to digest the numerous changes introduced at inter-county level.

A comprehensive fixtures list for the Wexford Senior teams was outlined during the week, and one particular item is going to be watched with special interest, not just here but all over the country.

That's the determined assertion from the powers-that-be that April is to be left completely free for club activity.

It sounds fine in theory, but when push comes to shove will it be possible to implement it adequately? I have grave doubts on that front.

I don't envy the job of those charged with looking after Wexford's domestic fixtures programme in 2018.

The county footballers will play Laois on the weekend of May 12-13 and, while the hurlers have a bye that weekend, their first clash against Dublin will be on May 20.

It would be naive in the extreme for anyone to think that Davy Fitzgerald, Paul McLoughlin and their backroom teams will sit back and give clubs a clear run throughout April. In fact, it would be a dereliction of duty if they didn't ramp up preparations after the earlier conclusion to the Allianz Leagues.

Realistically then, how many rounds of club championship games are likely to take place that month? Perhaps one football and one hurling over the first fortnight, and by a stroke of good fortune there's five Sundays on the calendar next April rather than four.

Still, I think anything more than one round apiece will be a tall order, and it also remains to be seen if the inter-county training schedules will impact unfavourably on the clubs.

If a team is playing a championship game at the weekend, in my view their mentors should be entitled to have their Wexford players training solely with them over the five-day period beforehand.

The question also arises, is there any worth in playing just one round of the football and hurling championship before a big break until possibly late August or early September?

History has shown that Wexford will be in big trouble with regard to completing championships unless some games are played early in the year, especially if the round robin system with five group games is retained.

Take Kilanerin as a prime example, and consider the fate they had to endure when they last won an adult football championship in 2008.

They beat Gusserane on a Saturday in early November but then had little option but to concede a walkover in Leinster as they were scheduled to play Navan O'Mahony's from Meath just 24 hours later.

That year the decision had been made to play no championship games in April or May, but the progress of the Wexford Senior footballers to an All-Ireland semi-final played on the last day of August caught everyone by surprise.

It resulted in the latest finish to the majority of championships for many years, so the lesson learned is that the club activity must begin in April whether we like it or not.

All it takes is for one club to have a good run in both codes to hold up fixtures at this time of year, and that is a regular occurrence in Wexford. Will every major championship be completed this time next year under the new format? I very much doubt that, although I hope I'm wrong.

Wexford People

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