A meeting at lunchtime on Friday will decide whether next weekend’s Sigerson Cup semi-finals are to be moved to Sunday to avoid a clash with the All-Ireland club football semi-finals on Saturday, February 16th.
Strong representations from NUI Galway over the dilemma facing Kieran Molloy have prompted the meeting. Molloy's club, All-Ireland champions Corofin, will be facing Donegal's Gaoth Dobhair – but his college, NUIG, is due to play UCC in the Sigerson semi-finals, which had also been scheduled for Saturday.
Corofin are also represented in the other semi-final, as Liam Silke plays with UCD, who play St Mary's, Belfast but the Dublin college is believed not to have requested a re-scheduling. It will be open
Last year, the two players were again involved in a clash of fixtures when UCD beat NUIG in the Sigerson final on the same afternoon that Corofin defeated Kildare champions Moorefield in the 2018 All-Ireland club semi-final. Molloy was rushed from Tullamore to Dublin after the club match – with what proved to be a controversial Garda escort – and appeared for NUIG in the second half of the colleges match.
Silke aggravated an injury playing for Corofin but UCD hadn’t intended to play him anyway.
There has been frustration at the fact that such a clash has been allowed to happen again.
‘Left on the long finger’
"We wrote to the CCCC after our competition draws," says Gerry Tully, chair of Comhairle Árdoideachais, the third-level governing body, "pointing out that this clash might happen but of course these things are always left on the long finger until something does happen. We didn't get a reply – I presume it was filed away. Ironically, we're back to the same two players again."
Another aspect of this particular fixtures’ clash is that plans to organise the championships on a calendar-year basis have yet to come to fruition.
It is one of the concerns of Tim Healy, up to last year chair of UCD and currently a selector.
"I saw that Brian Looney from Dr Crokes in Killarney (senior semi-finalists, who play Mullinalaghta) was quite rightly complaining that it takes four months to play two games in the All-Ireland series.
"We've also got a player from St Enda's (Peter Healy) in the intermediate final and a player from Beaufort (Mike Breen) in the junior final and they haven't been available to us."
Compressed inter-county calendar
Even aside from the club championships, the terrain has become more challenging for colleges’ teams with a compressed inter-county calendar starting earlier in the year.
“It all comes back to the calendar,” says Tully. “We’re just assigned our date. For player welfare reasons we got rid of the weekend format but the whole calendar is so congested from late January to mid-March. There needs to be a little bit more space given to everybody.
“We are hamstrung by the fact that a small number of our colleges have exams in January. In an ideal world all exams would be in December and we would play our competitions in January and be out by the first weekend in February. We can’t compromise exams and we’ve always said it.”
Feargal McGill, the GAA’s Head of Games Administration, believes that a new working arrangement has to be found and says that this will be the focus of discussion in the near future.
“I think this is going to become a major topic of conversation in the next year, where the third-level competitions fit. That definition of madness pops into mind: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I know that the leadership of the association is keen to get the whole third-level discussion going.
‘Conversation has to be had’
“That conversation has to be had and it’s likely to happen this year between the third-level people and the CCCC (Central Competitions Control Committee).
“A suite of solutions will have to be looked at. I’m not sure any one thing will solve it. Comhairle Árdoicheas have their genuine concerns around their competitions and the CCCC likewise but the one thing none of us can do is find extra weekends in the year so we’re going to have find a compromise that everyone can live with.”
Last year, Cork's Billy Morgan, coach of UCC, warned that what he perceived as indifference to the third-level sector could have a devastating impact on how the colleges and universities view Gaelic games. Healy agrees.
"It's a sentiment that I would concur with 100 per cent. Rugby look after their teams, take care of the colleges, and soccer does the same and I'm talking at national administrative level. The GAA have a small unit doing its best looking after third-level but you don't get the sense that it's a priority for Croke Park. "
Friday’s meeting might sort out the current dilemma but it’s clear that longer-term solutions need to be found.