Ridiculous. An absolute disgrace. An abuse of players. Strong words, powerfully delivered. That they were spoken by one of the highest-profile names in GAA piqued public interest.
o who is responsible for this awful scenario as portrayed by Colm O’Rourke last Sunday? Can we name and shame the miscreants who are responsible for such heinous activity, run them from the building and make instant amends for their shoddy work?
If only it were that easy. O’Rourke’s complaints centred on the overloads imposed on inter-county players who are also involved in third-level college competitions. His solution is to allocate Sigerson and Fitzgibbon to a different time slot. Pre-Christmas is the only alternative and, at face value, appears logical.
Not so, say third-level competition administrators. It’s first term, complete with all the settling in that involves, and with college exams either before Christmas or early January, later dates are favoured for Sigerson and Fitzgibbon.
Mind you, it wasn’t always that way. Prior to 1966, they were completed by early December at the latest. Still, they have been in February-March for the last 57 years and third level wants to keep it that way.
Other things have changed of course. Up to 1996 (hurling) and 2001 (football) four rounds of the Allianz Leagues were slotted in pre-Christmas. The finals weren’t played until April/early May, which meant that January was quiet (except for challenge games) and February-March weren’t overly busy either.
Then came the ‘big idea’. All competitions (except for All-Ireland club) had to be started and completed in the calendar year. Suddenly, the spring squeeze set in.
It has become far tighter now, with the much earlier start to the championships designed to close down inter-county activity by the end of July.
Predictably, it has led to unacceptable scenarios where players are faced with damaging schedules as they try to combine college and county.
No player wants to let his college down, no more than he’s prepared to ignore the county call in case it damages his prospects of staying aboard for the big action ahead. The inevitable result is a serious overload.
Solutions? Play third level pre-Christmas? Fine in theory, but if it were that simple why the opposition from the colleges? They’re hardly objecting just for the sake of being contrary. Also, Sigerson/Fitzgibbon in October/November could mean replacing college/county conflict with college/club conflict.
So how about this? Why not revert to the format where some National League games are played pre-Christmas? Say, three games between mid-November and early December. Okay, don’t all scream together – what about the clubs?
Running the All-Ireland championships in April-July means that county championships are completed by early to mid-October. By mid-November (at the latest) relatively few clubs remain in the provincial competitions so it wouldn’t exactly wreck county teams if they had to play without some established players.
It would give others a chance, which is what often happens in January/February anyway as managers try out new talent.
Playing three – or maybe even four – rounds of the league pre-Christmas would greatly reduce fixtures overheating in spring, including leaving a reasonable gap between the finals and the start of the championship.
Now I know there’s no chance of that happening because when it comes to the calendar year fixation there’s a Brexit mentality in the GAA.
Despite Britain’s catastrophic economic forecasts, Brexiteers won’t accept that it has anything to do with leaving the EU while even those who opposed the departure appear afraid to suggest that it should be revisited.
There are no Jacob Rees-Moggs or his ilk on the GAA’s Central Council but neither are there members who are prepared to query if the calendar year fixtures structure is no longer fit for purpose.
It has been given sacrosanct status, irrespective of the difficulties involved in trying to squeeze the entire inter-county programme, plus Sigerson and Fitzgibbon, into January-July.
Why is it not even open for debate? So much has changed since its introduction that it makes no sense to stick so slavishly with a timetable which has led to claims that players are being burned out and exposed to overuse injury risk at this time of year.
Back to the future is worth a look.
Ryan right to work on more net gains
Credit to new Cork hurling manager Pat Ryan for stating openly that his team needs to score more goals if they hope to make real progress.
“If we want to be doing anything this year, we have to be getting three to four goals in every match,” he said after his side scored two during the dramatic win over Limerick last Saturday.
Much of the blame for Cork’s problems over several seasons has been heaped on the defence. It certainly has had a case to answer, but Ryan may well have been reminding his forwards that it wasn’t just the defenders who needed to improve.
He’s right about goals. Indeed, other managers should be thinking along similar lines rather than trying to copy Limerick, whose dominance has been based essentially on long-range missiles (they averaged 1.1 goals in seven championships games and 1.2 in five league games last year). The points route works for them because it suits the style favoured by John Kiely, but it’s not right for everybody.
It’s simple, Eddie – put up or shut up
Sports forecasting is a tricky business but occasionally you can’t go wrong, which is how I felt when predicting here last November that if negotiations broke down for a Katie Taylor-Amanda Serrano world title fight in Croke Park, promoter Eddie Hearn would claim it was too expensive.
So he did. I also predicted that the GAA would be criticised for not bending to whatever Hearn wanted.
And so they were, led by Ryan Tubridy, who wanted “a special dispensation in Croke Park to bring Katie home”.
“She deserves a lot more than an overpriced hall,” he said.
Who decided it was overpriced? Hearn of course. Does Tubridy and others who wanted Croke Park to offer a cut-price deal have the remotest idea what they’re talking about?
Probably not, but if an English boxing promoter says it’s overpriced then it must be.
Here’s what I’d tell Hearn – either put up or shut up.