Leagues to get tight schedule


Allianz hurling and football leagues will be run off between February and May, if progressive new recommendations drafted by the GAA's competitions work group, are passed at the forthcoming meeting of central council, scheduled for late August.

The tighter, calendar year structure is just one of the reforms intended to correct the sapping, elongated GAA season which has ballooned over the past half decade.

The work group believes that the new structures will enhance the league as a competition as well as facilitating a reasonable time-frame for the club championships to be run off.

It will also ensure that the young "elite" players, who are often asked to represent club, college and county simultaneously, might be afforded some measure of an off-season.

"We looked at the statistics and found that league games are better attended after Christmas," offered Paraic Duffy, chairman of the Games Administration Committee and also a work group member.

"Sponsors had been faced with trying to launch the leagues twice, before and after Christmas so this new format will put a stop to this.

It will also improve the chances of "star" players being available throughout the league and free-up more Sundays for league games via the doubling-up of league fixtures," he said.

The increasing inactivity of club players due to the pressures of the All-Ireland championship was a central concern for the group. The common tendency to leave club fixtures in limbo to suit the inter-county squad has been curbed under new rules drafted by the Group which have already been passed by Central Council and Congress.

"When the counties virtually abandon all club fixtures, what it means is that we have up to 300,000 club players out of football for the best months of the year. We are taking efforts to try and end that," commented Central Council delegate John Greene. However, stipulations have been inserted to ensure county players are exempt from club duties for 13 days before matches and 20 days prior to an All-Ireland final.

The new format would see the NFL commence on the first weekend of February and concluding on the last weekend in April, with the NHL commencing on February 24th and ending on the weekend of May 5th. Duffy stressed that the dates were not set is stone and that the group were open to alternative suggestions.

The report recommends to enhance competitive games, the leagues should be divided into tables of eight and not tampered with for a period of four years or more. It was noted that hurling has suffered for attractiveness in recent years, with 22 so called major games on offer this season, in comparison to 58 marquee football matches.

"This is disappointing and will hopefully be elevated to 30 matches next season under the new championship system," said Pat Daly, the GAA Head of Games.

The recommendations were for the most part informed by practical problems that the GAA has encountered at central and provincial level in recent years. Hence, it is proposed that the All-Ireland under-21 finals, be put back until a fixed date in Autumn, allowing the four councils to run off the provincial rounds at their discretion.

It is also recommended that extra-time be played at all league games , including finals and also for championship matches to the semi-final stages of the senior competition and to the final stage of the U-21 contest.

While a number of the proposals will require approval at congress, the new league structure, certain to meet with approval from players and coaches, could be implemented with a simple majority at central council.