Anomaly lets teams return earlier
GAELIC GAMES: A GLARING anomaly in the GAA’s new rule on the so-called “closed season” will afford several counties the chance to return to collective training two weeks earlier than counties who exited at the same stage of the championship – purely on the basis of match scheduling.
Congress last April voted to amend Rule 6.44, which refers to the closed season and collective training, modifying it to operate on a staggered basis: counties who exited the championship in June are now allowed to resume training on November 15th; those eliminated in July can resume on December 1st; those beaten in August have to wait until December 8th; and those beaten in September can’t return to collective training until December 29th.
Previously, the GAA’s closed season prohibited any collective training throughout November and December, a controversial measure, not least because of reports of frequent breaches by counties eager to return to training after a more extended lay-off, or indeed to get a head start on their rivals.
What the amendment means, however, is that a county beaten in this year’s championship on June 30th can return to training two weeks earlier than a county beaten on July 1st, even though they effectively exited at the same stage of the championship, namely the first round of the All-Ireland football qualifiers.
Derry, Louth, Offaly, Carlow, Waterford and London are the counties benefiting from the anomaly – by virtue of the fact that all their qualifier games were played on Saturday, June 30th – while Armagh and Fermanagh were beaten in the first round qualifiers played a day later, on Sunday, July 1st.
Similarly, the Cork footballers can return to training on December 8th, given that they exited the championship in the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Donegal, played on August 26th, while Dublin must wait until December 29th before they can resume collective training, given that they exited the championship in the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Mayo, which happened to be played on September 2nd.
There aren’t any such glaring anomalies in the hurling championship, at least not after the scheduling of matches this year, although there are some discrepancies nonetheless: Dublin and Offaly, for example, exited the championship in phase two of the hurling qualifiers, played on July 7th, yet face the same extended lay-off as Waterford and Limerick, who exited the championship in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, played on July 29th.
Croke Park were aware of these potential anomalies at the time the motion, drafted by Central Council, was brought to Congress, yet decided against any further amendment: as it turned out the motion was strongly endorsed, 84-16, suggesting that counties were still largely supportive of at least the principle of a closed season.
There was also a motion brought to Congress from Laois calling for the rule on the closed season to be deleted, thereby allowing intercounty teams to return to training whenever they want – although this was rejected.
Counties are still permitted to stage two “trial” games during the closed season, provided they don’t use any players that featured on their 2012 championship panel, although it has emerged that Management Committee last month had to approve some minor rewording of the amended rule, given the fact there was no reference to “playing of games” in the closed season, which meant counties might well have been free to play games, but not train.
The amended rules also state that the days around Christmas, December 21st to 28th, are closed for everyone, although this appears somewhat incongruous too, given that this is a time of year when most players would be off work, and also when managers are under pressure to establish panels ahead of the pre-season competitions such as the O’Byrne Cup and Dr McKenna Cup.
One of the main motivations behind the amended closed season was the astute awareness that such a blanket ban on inactivity in November and December was being breached more than it had been observed: indeed GAA director general Páraic Duffy addressed this matter in his annual report for Congress, expressing concern over “the lack of support for a policy that is rooted in player-welfare considerations”.