GAA championship structures to be decided on Friday

Live draws for Munster and Leinster are scheduled to be televised on the Six One News

The All-Ireland finals in hurling and football are scheduled to be held in December. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

The All-Ireland finals in hurling and football are scheduled to be held in December. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

The shape of the GAA championship season will be known on Friday. In the morning, details will be announced at Croke Park of the structures for the 2020 intercounty competitions and in the evening, live draws for Munster and Leinster – the only provinces which have yet to complete their arrangements – are scheduled to be televised on RTÉ’s Six One News.

It is understood that the broadcast is up in the air a little, as government formation may become a major story by the time the programme goes to air, but as of Thursday it was expected that the details of this year’s calendar would be completed by the weekend.

Munster officials are set to travel to Áras Laighean in Portlaoise to conduct their draw in front of the cameras. Both provinces have to re-draw the hurling championship, as there is no time for the round-robin format of the past two years. Munster will revert to the same draw as 2017 with no seeding and the first two counties drawn playing the quarter-final.

Leinster are to seed last year’s finalists Wexford and Kilkenny. The province will also draw its football semi-finals. Last year it was decided to hold back in order to add some intrigue to the championship and draw the last four after the quarter-finals had been completed.

The dates have been widely speculated on as running from October 17th to December 20th and it is expected that the first two weekends of intercounty activity will see the Allianz Football League completed.

These fixtures will be part of the guaranteed three matches for each football county, as the ‘big ball’ championship is expected to be straight knockout all the way to an All-Ireland final on the weekend before Christmas.

Hurling counties will have two fixtures, as the original qualifier system, introduced in 2002, will apply with the six teams who don’t reach a provincial final playing off and facing the beaten Leinster and Munster finalists in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

The under-20 football championship will be played out, as the All-Ireland semi-finals are ready to go and were supposed to be played on St Patrick’s Day. Further news on the under-20 hurling is expected on Friday with speculation that the final will be played in late November.

There is also expected to be further information on the prospective timetable for Ulster counties in the light of Northern Ireland pandemic restrictions.

Sources in both Munster and Leinster indicated that there will be no immediate preparations for venues and crowd capacities.

“Waiting to see,” was the response from one Munster source. “We’ll await the guidelines and then see where we go in terms of venues and attendances. We may not get directives immediately but I think they will follow. We expect terraces can’t be used but that will be considered by health and safety people in Croke Park and we’ll take our lead from them.”

The Leinster perspective echoed that.

“The broad view is that if we go back eight weeks we’d no idea that we’d be where we are now. It makes sense to wait until we have to make the call. We could commit to playing everything in Croke Park, Thurles, the Gaelic Grounds or Nowlan Park but then by early September there could be further lifting of restrictions. You don’t want to rule anything out.

“The time will come when we have to make a call. Are matches going to have to be all-ticket or whatever but it’s too early at the moment? The big worry is not even so much the crowds in attendance but where they are before and after a match. If you’ve 30,000 in Croke Park, are they going to be in pubs and hotels afterwards?”

At present the thinking is that centralising matches in a small number of large venues makes sense given the range of Covid-19 protocols required, which would make it easier in a big stadium accustomed to hosting matches.

Such necessary measures as maintaining adequate supplies of sanitiser and detailed hygiene protocols would be better left to professional stadium workers.

As one provincial official put it, “it’s probably asking too much of a volunteer at a smaller ground to spend most of the afternoon cleaning out toilets.”

Another spelled out the main challenges in organising matches outside of the major stadia. “The big issues for any venue are press box, tuck shops and toilets.”

Possible calendar

October 17th/18th and 24th/25th: 2020 season begins with conclusion of football league fixtures. Under-20 football championships, currently at All-Ireland semi-final stage, to be completed.

October 31st/November 1st: Provincial championships commence. No qualifiers in football but there will be in hurling with the six counties who don’t qualify for their provincial finals playing off down to two.

November 14th/15th and 21st/22nd: Provincial finals

November 21st/22nd: All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals, two qualifiers v defeated provincial finalists.

December: Concluding All-Ireland stages up to weekend 19th/20th and All-Ireland football final.

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