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Sean McGoldrick: Split season is a disaster for the GAA

Central Council should listen to the CCCC because fixture list is a mess

29 January 2023; Roscommon manager Davy Burke before the Allianz Football League Division 1 match between Roscommon and Tyrone at Dr Hyde Park in Roscommon. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Sean McGoldrickSunday World

Last September one of the GAA’s most influential committees suggested the abolition of the four Allianz League finals.

The wise men who sit on the Association’s Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) probably knew the fate of their proposal even before it reached the floor of Central Council.

There was no meaningful debate on the proposal. Instead, there was the normal outrage from the usual suspects.

The loss of both revenue and marketing opportunities, denying players the chance of performing in Croke Park and tinkering with decades of traditional were all trotted out as reasons why the league finals should be retained.

It was a pity the CCCC did not articulate publicly why they had made such a radical suggestion.

It came down to scheduling. The combined impact of the split season and the expanded All-Ireland football championship means the inter-county fixtures is being squeezed into an impossibly tight time frame.

The plight of Mayo footballers is well documented.

Come Easter Sunday, April 9 they will have played on four successive weekends and featured in both the Division 1 league final and the quarter-final of the Connacht championship against Roscommon.

By the way, Roscommon could end up facing the same schedule if Galway don’t at least draw with Kerry in Salthill on Sunday.

In this scenario Davy Burke’s team will qualify for the Division 1 final if they beat Donegal by five points more than Kerry beat Galway and by one point more than Tyrone beat Armagh.

Other counties like Offaly, Laois, Sligo, Wicklow and Leitrim - who are all in contention for places in the lower divisions league finals - will be in action in their respective provincial championship on the weekend of April 8/9.

Sligo, for example, will have just six days to prepare for their Connacht championship clash against London in Ruislip, while Leitrim face the long trip to the US for a clash against New York on Easter Sunday.

One wonders would Central Council delegates have been so dismissive of the CCCC proposal had they actually thought it through fully.

Apart from the scheduling issues there are other reasons why the league finals – particularly the Division One and Two deciders should be scrapped.

The Allianz League is arguably the only competition in global sport where there is more interest at the start than the finish

The priority for all the top-flight teams is to keep their place in Division 1. Winning the league is of secondary importance.

Once teams secure sufficient points to guarantee themselves top-flight football for the next season their interest wanes.

With the exception of Galway’s Padraic Joyce, none of the other Division 1 bosses have stated that winning the league is a priority this season.

Secondly, in terms of fairness, the team that finished top of the league should win the trophy. The essence of a league is to reward consistency.

Mayo have been the most consistent team in Division 1 this season. They are the only unbeaten team in the division. But there is no guarantee they will win anything as the title will be decided in a once-off knock out match next weekend.

The next time the CCCC propose the abolition of the league finals - as they most assuredly will - the Central Council might actually listen to them.

At least the football league functions until it gets to the final stages.

The same cannot be said about Division 1 of the hurling league which has turned into a pre-championship tournament for the majority of teams competing in the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

There were indications from Croke Park this week that the format would be looked at again.

Here’s one radical solution which, of course, won’t get on the agenda: scrap the competition!

The hurling season could be realigned with the Fitzgibbon Cup being played as a stand-alone competition in February and March with the final being played on St Patrick’s Day.

The inter-county hurling season would begin on the first Sunday in April with a double round (home and away) of fixtures in the Munster and Leinster championships. In the subsidiary hurling competitions such as the Christy Ring Cup there could also be a double round of fixtures.

The knock-out phase of all the championships would proceed as they do at the moment.

Of course, the GAA prefer to tinker around the edges rather than overhaul competition structures. So, we are stuck with what we have for the foreseeable future.

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