Leagues to be played in a calendar year


The National Leagues will be played on a calendar-year basis next year. The GAA's Central Council made the decision at Saturday's meeting in Croke Park. It was the only recommendation of the Competitions Work Group (CWG) under discussion because of the late running of business. The question of the calendar year had to be determined, given the need to organise autumn fixtures had the reform been defeated.

Padraig Duffy, the chairman of the CWG, made the case for acceptance. He said the proposal was based on the need to rest players, give clubs a clear run at the end of the year and improve the status of the National Leagues.

In his closing submission he put the last point baldly. "I think we have to do something about the leagues. It's my opinion that they are dying at present." Duffy cited the unavailability of many top players during the first phase of the league and also the poorer attendances at these matches, compared to the post-Christmas schedule.

There was some opposition to the idea from a number of counties. Paudie Doyle of Carlow said that weaker counties would have a drastically curtailed competitive year. "This means after the end of March we will have no league game and after the end of May no championship game for another year. I'm talking for my own county but there's a lot of counties in the same position."

Tipperary's Noel Morris asked what the clubs would do with 14 Sundays between February and May taken up with National League fixtures. Padraig Brennan of Roscommon said that the calendar year would be "handing over media to other sporting organisations in October and November."

Two of the most effective interventions in favour of the proposals came from Armagh delegates. Jarlath Burns, in his capacity as chairman of the Players Committee, made a powerful case. "Amongst players there is a massive consensus in favour of the calendar year. I remember as a player you went through three pre-seasons: in October at the start of the league, in January before the resumption and then in April for the championship. With the calendar year there'll be one in January with a top-up in May."

He also expressed concern that the rest periods for players could be easily infringed. "A student, say, coming back from Australia can find himself tied up with his club and his college right up to Christmas."

Armagh delegate Gene Duffy gave forthright approval to the proposal. "We discussed this thoroughly in Armagh and decided we will be supporting this 100 per cent. Our club leagues don't start until April and I believe this protects the club for the first time and will also make sure we don't concede any more ground to county managers dictating when clubs play football and hurling."

Leinster Council chairman Seamus Aldridge asked would the motion require a two-thirds majority. McCague said that it would. This was because of a previous Central Council decision to accept a Hurling Development Committee recommendation to relocate some National Hurling League fixtures to the autumn. Any motion to reverse a decision already taken requires a weighted majority.

When put to the vote, the motion was approved 27-10 and deemed accepted. McCague initially declared the motion lost, probably on the grounds that 10 was more than a third of 27, before realising his computing error.

The president had earlier become irritated by the constant eruption of mobile phone ringing tones. "It's like a flute band in here," he declared. "For God's sake can you turn them off until the meeting's over." At one stage the solemn announcement that Larry Tompkins had lost his appeal against a three-match ban had been greeted by Beethoven's Ode to Joy tootling out loud on one delegate's phone.

That lengthy appeal by Tompkins against the championship ban imposed by the Games Administration Committee in respect of pitch incursions during the Munster football final against Kerry delayed business considerably. Tompkins's case was prosecuted on procedural grounds by county secretary Frank Murphy who attempted to blur the distinction between match regulations - under which the ban had been imposed - and rules in the Official Guide - under which ordinary suspensions are handed down.

In this Murphy was nearly successful but ultimately the appeal was lost on the grounds that there had been no clear infringement or misapplication of a rule. In other words Rule 142 in the Official Guide doesn't impose procedures for imposing bans for breaches of competition regulations.

Saturday morning's Management Committee meeting also made recommendations for the disbursement of additional revenue from the All-Ireland football qualifier series. According to director general Liam Mulvihill, the gross revenue had been £4.9 million and after deductions for rent, security, injury and insurance funds, the net figure was £3.3 million. It is proposed to give every county a minimum of £40,000 plus match expenses and overnight allowances. Provincial councils will receive £100,000 each.

McCague also confirmed that he had asked GAC chairman Padraig Duffy to reconvene the Inter-County Schedule Work Group, the body that devised the qualifiers and which Duffy had also chaired, to review the system after its inaugural year and make recommendations for its future operation.

A request from GAC to consider penalising players who feign injury or dive was turned down as too difficult to implement without a rule change at Congress - something a lot more difficult now given the 2000 decision not to consider playing rules more regularly than every 10 years. Jarlath Burns said the Players' Committee was going to address the culture of diving and try to effect some change.

Pat McEnaney of Monaghan will be the GAA's referee in this year's International Rules series in Australia.

Disappointment was expressed by both the GAA and Murray Consultants at the take-up on the players' endorsement scheme announced a year ago. Hope was expressed that the scheme would do better in the future.

Any replay consequent on next Sunday's Meath-Kerry match will have to be held in Thurles because Management considered it too risky to play a football match 24 hours before the All-Ireland hurling final.