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More games in less time: the GAA master fixture list for 2018

GAA director general Páraic Duffy says ‘dramatic’ changes will help club players

All-Ireland hurling final: 2018’s final will be played on August 19th. Photograph: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile via Getty Images

More games in less time and two prime months of the season effectively without any intercounty activity whatsoever – GAA director general Páraic Duffy isn’t exaggerating when he approvingly describes the changes to the 2018 master fixture list as “dramatic”.

“I’m very happy with it, think they’ve done a really good job,” says Duffy, commenting on the raft of changes now approved by the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC), including new round-robin competitions in football and hurling, and the ringfencing of April and September to club activity only.

“It’s a very difficult task and they’ve managed to achieve the key goals. And the biggest one is to get a better balance between club fixtures and county fixtures, and it creates a template whereby clubs can put together a very good programme of games for club players.

“It won’t suit every county maybe, but it will suit the vast majority and there really is no excuse for counties not to put together a decent programme of [club] games based on what has unveiled here.”

 Other changes include both the Allianz football and hurling leagues starting on the last weekend in January; the Allianz hurling league final scheduled for Saturday, March 24th; the Munster football final will also be played on a Saturday (June 23rd), while both the Munster and Leinster hurling finals will take place on the same day, July 1st.

 The football league finals (division one and two) will be played on Sunday, April 1st, after which the next four weekends in April are set aside exclusively for club activity; the All-Ireland hurling final is set for August 19th, and the football final for September 2nd. The football final has been pushed back a week due to the papal visit to Ireland – in 2019 it will be played on the last Sunday in August.

Duffy has little fear about conceding this time and media exposure to other sports. “Look at the programme of games you have from early in January right through to the start of September. Apart from that month of April, there’s a massive programme of really top-class games.

 “Hurling, in particular, had very few big games. The Leinster championship, there would have been three or four. In Munster, four. Now look at the number of games. I think it is far better both from the intercounty scene and from the point of view of the promotion of the game and for the clubs.”

 Might attendances be affected, given more comes in close proximity?

“It might on individual games but the total numbers I expect to rise because you’ve eight big additional games in football and in hurling you’ll have 15 or 20 big games. Certainly some games will lose by having two games at the weekend on a Saturday and Sunday, but not the total, which I expect to rise.

Duffy, who steps down as director general at the end of next March, also admits the changes aren’t written in stone. “Look it, it’s a three-year experiment. It could be in three years’ time that people say we don’t like round-robin in hurling, we don’t like the [football] quarter-finals that are round-robin, we don’t like the Leinster and Munster [hurling] finals on the same day, we don’t like the Munster football final on a Saturday. We’re often criticised in the past for being slow to move. Over the past three Congresses, we’ve made dramatic changes.”

 The new schedule will also see most of the pre-season competitions start on Sunday, December 30th.