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GAA authorities wrestle with new master fixtures calendar

Date of football final in doubt due to planned papal visit to Ireland in late August

Already there is some uncertainty surrounding the date for next year’s All-Ireland Football final. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

A draft of next year’s GAA master fixtures calendar shows some of the potentially disputed dates surrounding the now revamped football and hurling championships. 

Already there’s some uncertainty surrounding the date of the All-Ireland football final; in the draft fixture calendar, it’s pencilled in for Sunday August 26th – after congress earlier this year agreed both the hurling and football finals would be played in August on a three-year trial basis. 

However, given the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland next August, the 2018 football final is likely to be put back to Sunday September 2nd. Part of the problem here is that the Pope doesn’t usually confirm his schedule until six months in advance, but he is expected to attend at least two of the events surrounding the World Meeting of Families, due to be held here between August 21-26th, including a Mass in Croke Park on that Sunday, August 26th. 

The new hurling championship structure will for the first time see both Leinster and Munster play their provincial competitions on a round-robin basis (consisting of five-team groups), due to be played off over five successive weekends (one team having a bye each weekend, with two of the four games guaranteed at home venues). 

These games are down to start on Sunday May 13th, through to Sunday June 10th. The issue here may be the availability of home venues such as Croke Park, Semple Stadium and Páirc Uí Chaoimh for dual counties such as Cork, Tipperary, Dublin, and Galway, who will be running off their provincial football competitions at the same time. 

Given the changes in hurling, only a 2018 football championship draw is needed this year – taking place next Thursday week, October 19th. The Leinster and Munster provincial councils will decide the draw and scheduling of games for their round-robin hurling championships, with the Leinster hurling final pencilled in for Sunday June 24th, the Munster final a week later, Sunday July 1st.

This however will leave the Leinster hurling champions with a five-week lay-off before their All-Ireland semi-final, and the Munster champions with a four-week lay-off, as the 2018 All-Ireland hurling semi-finals are pencilled in for the Saturday July 28th and Sunday July 29th. 

Three-year trial

After the football draw is made, the GAA’s Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) must then complete the master fixture calendar for final approval at Central Council’s meeting at the end of November. 

This draft calendar was circulated to counties as part of central council’s proposal for the new hurling championship structures, passed on a three-year trial basis at Saturday’s special congress after getting the necessary 62 per cent majority support of delegates. 

This will increase the number of games in the Liam MacCarthy Cup from 22 to 29 (excluding the 2017 four-team Leinster qualifier series), with Leinster and Munster now consisting of five-team groups and played on a round-robin basis; if the new two-tier championship is the included the number of games rises to 45, again on a three-year trial basis. 

This comes on top of the new Super-8 football championship, also introduced on a trial basis for 2018-2020, and will see the addition of eight games at the quarter-final stage, as eight counties play-off in two groups of four, all those games also pencilled in for July. 

When asked how the master calendar might fall into place, GAA director general Páraic Duffy said it was “a little bit constrained” until after the football draws are made: “The next central council meeting is the last week in November and we have to present it at that meeting so the work will start now next week. It’s a little bit constrained until the draws are made on the 19th of October and the question then is asked about the provincial councils and how they are going to work the round-robins.” 

Other dates pencilled in on the draft master fixtures calendar is Sunday April 1st for the Allianz Football League final, and Sunday April 15th for the Allianz Hurling League final. This will mean an earlier start to the football league, the intention being to free up April completely for club fixtures, with the exception of the hurling league final.