Páraic Duffy says freeing April for club fare a necessary rebalancing

Outgoing GAA director general emphasises rights of clubs vis-a-vis county managers

Páraic Duffy: “Clubs have equal rights with the counties – why should the county manager decide ‘no, they won’t play with the clubs’?” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

In his final annual report before retirement, and his 11th in all, GAA director general Páraic Duffy has issued a strong message of support for the new status of April as a month when clubs will have priority access to players.

This will be the first significant implementation of the radical new calendar being trialled for the next three years. Already there has been dissent in some counties and, although the more extreme forms of proposed defiance have settled, there is still scepticism that county managers will fully co-operate in making players available to their clubs all through the month.

Duffy responded sharply to the suggestion from some county managers that it was unrealistic to expect them to free players for the entire month,during which two league finals will be played and other inter-county activity limited to training and challenge matches played early in the week.

“No, it’s not unrealistic. I think it’s up to counties; it’s not unrealistic at all. I know in my county [Monaghan] we are playing on the 20th of May, the county manager [Malachy O’Rourke] sat down and talked about the fixtures. We’ll play four rounds of league games.


“The players will train with the county during the week and play with the club at the weekend through April. Why should there be a problem? It’s a problem if you think the clubs have no rights. Clubs have equal rights with the counties – why should the county manager decide ‘no, they won’t play with the clubs’.”

In his report Duffy argues that, “ring-fencing the month of April for club fixtures is crucial in allowing counties to make a good start to their club programme for the year.

“We must be determined in our implementation of the motions passed that restrict senior inter-county challenge games to Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, and that do not allow panels to go on ‘training weekends’, or training of longer duration, except in the specified period prior to a senior championship game.”

Speaking in Croke Park on Tuesday, Duffy expanded and pointed out that just two football teams, Sligo and Leitrim, had championship fixtures on the first weekend in May. (There are however also three Joe McDonagh Cup hurling fixtures.)

“It’s up to counties to make sure that they get the season off to a good start, beginning of April and put on rounds of club games. There is no reason why any county can’t play four games. There are five Sundays.

Eight teams

"And by the 8th of July there will only be eight teams left in the All-Ireland championship, so from 8th July on, 24 counties have the rest of the year in football all to themselves. So any county that can't produce a decent calendar themselves this year has only themselves to blame, providing they don't let manager dictate to them."

He also revisited a past controversy from the files of championship reform. That was at annual congress two years ago when the only motion on the clár to change the football championship – after extensive consultations – was a proposal for a secondary championship, which ended up being withdrawn before discussion.

Duffy remains convinced that there will have to be a tiered championship, even though the counties most affected were the strongest opponents in 2016, but accepted that it would be difficult.

“Achieving consensus while preserving the provincial championships will not be easy. There are those who are quick to criticise the provincial championships, but it must be recognised that there is a strong attachment to them throughout the association.

“But we must find a way to give all counties the possibility of success in a football championship. It should be noted that in 2018 the All-Ireland hurling championships will consist of five competitions at All-Ireland level. In football, there is only one, a structure that is not sustainable.”

Speaking about the case of Kerry’s Brendan O’Sullivan, who tested positive for a banned substance, the director general drew attention to the Irish Sport Anti-Doping Appeals Panel’s view that player education within the association had been inadequate.

He also called for certification of all inter-county players as having been educated in anti-doping.

"By early 2018 each county will have at least one trained anti-doping tutor. As part of our education programmes, the seminars have been complemented by the regular circulation of anti-doping information and education resources to County Committees, backroom teams, support personnel and to the GPA.

“There is a pressing need to introduce a system whereby a player is prohibited from playing on an inter-county team until he has certification that he has completed an acceptable anti-doping education programme.”

In an interesting reference to the phenomenon of counties naming dummy teams, Duffy quoted an idea by former Laois footballer Billy Sheehan, which proposes that any changes to an officially named team before throw-in should be drawn from that team's six match replacements.

“There is frustration,” he said, “among both media and our supporters at the practice of naming ‘dummy’ teams. It has got to the point that little notice is now taken of announced team lineouts.

“Team managers would think twice before knowingly naming an incorrect starting 15 if it reduced their options for substitution during the game.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times