All-Ireland club finals could be played in January from next year

Croke Park fixtures review believed to favour compromise on calendar-year completion

January All-Ireland semi-finals and finals could be organised by Croke Park and that would substantially  reduce the interval between them and the provincial finals. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

January All-Ireland semi-finals and finals could be organised by Croke Park and that would substantially reduce the interval between them and the provincial finals. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

Next year’s All-Ireland club finals could be completed by the end of January.

A review of fixtures scheduling is currently under way in Croke Park and is believed to favour the option of January rather than a calendar-year conclusion to the championships, which would see them played before Christmas.

At present, the Fixtures Analysis Committee is engaged in discussions with the Central Competitions Control Committee to devise a way forward in the tortuous world of GAA fixtures.

Currently, the hottest topic on that front is the scheduling of the All-Ireland club championships. A succession of players involved in the latter stages of the competition have publicly called for the season to be revamped so that the huge gap between provincial championships and the All-Ireland can be eliminated.

Whereas there is a better environment for the calendar-year model than has ever been the case – because of the now widespread restrictions on replays, the abolition of the special round for British clubs and the earlier dates for the inter-county All-Ireland finals – the January option is gaining support because it can be immediately implemented for 2020.

If accepted, it would mean gradual change – and a reduction of six weeks in the club schedules – and maybe a stepping stone to the calendar year.

One of the main problems with the calendar-year solution is that it is regarded with scepticism by the provincial councils, especially Leinster and Munster, which both have to organise full-format senior football and hurling championships and there is concern that shoe-horning them into a new structure would be problematic.

January All-Ireland semi-finals and finals could be organised by Croke Park and would simply reduce the interval between them and the provincial finals. Objections based on vacating of the St Patrick’s Day holiday would be triggered but the GAA doesn’t see that as a major obstacle.

It would have the advantage of completing the championships before the national leagues got under way although there would continue to be major clashes with the third-level Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cups, which are very busy in January.

Within the past week, former Galway All-Ireland winner and Corofin player Kieran Fitzgerald succinctly summarised the case against the status quo.

“It’s mentally draining, training on poor pitches. Physically you’d be fine but you’re slogging away and there’s 60 days to go for 60 minutes of football. It is crazy and I think it has to change.”

A necessity

The calendar-year proposal first gained traction when the second report of the Football Review Committee advocated it at the end of 2013.

“We feel it’s not just an aspiration,” said FRC chair Eugene McGee at the time. “We feel it should be a necessity because the starting point for improving the club situation nationally would be that the date is set for the All-Ireland club final.”

Then director general Páraic Duffy referred to the proposal in his 2015 annual report and projected its implementation for 2016.

“The rationale for most of the FRC proposals was the creation of a more favourable environment for the playing of club games, particularly during the summer months.

“In this regard, its most significant proposal was that the All-Ireland club championships should be completed in the calendar year, with the intention of pressurising counties to complete their championships during the summer months so as to ensure entry for their clubs to the provincial competitions.

“Central Council accepted the proposal in principle for both football and hurling, and established a work group to examine how the FRC proposal could best be implemented, with instructions to revert to Central Council with its suggestions. The meeting agreed that if the work group proposals were deemed feasible, and if any necessary changes to rule were accepted at Congress 2015, the calendar-year competitions programme would take effect in 2016.”

There has however been no progress on the idea, which was effectively shelved – rather than implemented – by 2016.

The feeling in Croke Park was that there was further work to be done before the calendar year could be introduced but the current, three-year inter-county championship trial has created additional space in the calendar.

The report on fixtures and its proposals will be debated and if accepted implemented later this year.

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