Weather already playing havoc with GAA fixture list
Some counties now facing the prospect of games for next six weekends in a row
Meath manager Andy McEntee: “I have yet to meet a county manager who is going to agree to forfeit his players for the month of April.” Photograph: Laslo Geczo/Inpho
Be careful what you wish for. After heavy rain washed out six of Sunday’s GAA matches, the chances of April being kept free for club fixtures only appears increasingly slim. In either theory or practice.
Meath football manager Andy McEntee was one of those affected – the O’Byrne Cup final against Westmeath, scheduled for Portlaoise, now postponed until mid-February – and that’s already created something of a fixture backlog: it means playing the next six weekends in succession, and any further postponements “could mess up everything”.
“We actually had to make three different plans for Sunday,” says McEntee. “We had to plan for the game being played in Portlaoise at 4.0. For it being moved to Mullingar at 2.0. Or not being played at all, in which case we’d train at 11.0.
“We got the call around 9.0 (Sunday morning), to say the pitches were flooded and the game was off, which I’d say 90 per cent of the population knew was going to happen. As it turned out we didn’t even get to train, because we couldn’t get a suitable pitch for that either.
“I’m not going to say we knew it, but we’d a fair idea this was going to happen as far back as Monday. With current technology, it’s not difficult to make a judgement call. With that in mind, could it have been played on Saturday night? And venues like Abbotstown, a great facility, could have been used. And we had an issue with this game from the start, given it was due to be the second game in Portlaoise. And that also means whatever significance the Byrne Cup final might have had up until now, it’s diminished even further.
“I know Colin Kelly [the Westmeath manager] was talking about this on Saturday. They are a lot of costs involved in preparing for a game like this, in terms of buses, meals, hotels and all that sort of thing. And for a decision to be left until 9.0 in the morning, when as I say the vast majority of people knew there was an extreme amount of rain due to fall overnight, is a bit ridiculous. People really need to take these things into consideration, maybe think a little outside the box.”
It’s not just Meath and Westmeath: with the Dr McKenna Cup and Connacht FBD League final already postponed until the weekend of February 17th/18th (also the weekend of the Sigerson Cup finals) Tyrone, Donegal, Galway and Roscommon also face the next six weekends on the trot. The Allianz Football and Hurling Leagues begin this weekend, with 33 games across both codes, the only other free weekend in football before April being March 10th/11th.
Also called off on Sunday were all four AIB All-Ireland junior and intermediate club championship matches scheduled in Navan, Newbridge, Portlaoise and Tullamore. The one silver lining for Galway and Roscommon is that the postponement of their FBD league game, already a dead rubber, means they’ll only have to play their final ‘once’.
For McEntee, part of the concern now is what happens should another weekend of fixtures fall victim to the weather: what he believes is that the idea of April being kept free for club fixtures only is wishful thinking.
“I have yet to meet a county manager who is going to agree to forfeit his players for the month of April, and then come out for the start of the championship in the beginning of May. If anyone thinks that is going to happen, they’re naive in the extreme.
“Especially in football, where the prize of getting into the new Super-8s is greater than any other year. If you don’t make the Super-8s this year you’re falling further behind. You don’t get the extra three games, and the teams that do will pull further ahead. The gap widens again and the chances of making it next year are even more remote.
“So on that basis, anyone who thinks a team in that situation is going to release their players for the month of April is wrong, I can guarantee you that much. And given the weather that Ireland is likely to witness over the next two months it could mess up everything.”
With the hurling league more condensed than ever (that final set for Saturday, March 24th) McEntee also wonders why there can’t be more flexibility: “Short term is this year, and there’s no solution this year. The fixtures have been made. But I think it begins with the structure of the championship.
“Another option, if say you take the league, November and December are typically better months now to play football, than January and February. Players don’t mind playing games, they keep saying that. What they do mind is going to bed on Saturday night and not knowing are they playing the next day in Portlaoise or in Mullingar or at all
“And I’d really feel for some of those club teams on Sunday, making their preparations from Tyrone and West Kerry. We get another weekend like this, what does that do to the whole master fixture plan?”