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The GAA ought to have done a bit of outside-the-box thinking and experimented with something new

Regulation of training and expenses a positive but fixture plan misses a trick

Cork have lost their last four Munster finals and always have it tough in Killarney.

Pat Spillane

For GAA fanatics this is our Eureka moment.

We have now discovered the road map for the 2021 season. We can start filling in our diaries for the next few months.

Though I'm happy about all that, I remain confused and angry at the way sport has been treated during the pandemic. We sports lovers didn't get a fair crack of the whip.

The decision making by NPHET and the government on sport was not evidence-based in many instances.

Furthermore, neither body trusted sports organisations to regulate their own members and competitions.

There was more than an element of making it up on the hoof. For example, while county training at adult level resumed last Monday, under-age players must wait until tomorrow to get back on the field - but, even then, can only engage in non-contact training.

Meanwhile, the nation's schoolchildren are not allowed to indulge in their chosen sport on the schools' sports fields, but are expected to sit in their classrooms all day?

As for adult club players? Well, they've have been forgotten about.

They have been inactive now for seven months, and in the process have become forgotten victims of the pandemic.

Later this week another Covid-19 road map will be announced by the government.

It is imperative that it includes a date for the resumption of all outdoor adult sport.

Still on the issue of anomalies in the regulations, why are county teams allowed to train, yet cannot play challenge games.

Prior to the start of the new League of Ireland season clubs were allowed to play friendlies, even though the daily Covid-19 case numbers were much higher than they are now. Frankly, it makes no sense

Neither Meath nor Kildare can test Dublin in Leinster.


There are a lot of positive elements to the GAA's revised fixtures list.

The length of the inter-county season has been cut by seven weeks.

Twenty-six counties will have exited the All-Ireland hurling and football championships by the second weekend in August.

That should, in turn, allow them to begin their club championship programme earlier than is formally planned.

The GAA have recognised how important it is to play the provincial and All-Ireland club championships this season, even if the latter competition won't conclude until February 2022.

Better still, the GAA at central level will oversee the regulation of inter-county training and the payment of team expenses.

The size of back-room teams has been limited, county panels are restricted to 32 players and counties can only assemble three times a week, with at least a 48-hour gap between sessions.

County managers, however, have a habit of spotting loopholes in Croke Park regulations.

So, I wouldn't be surprised if counties found ways to circumvent the rules.

The sad reality is that until the GAA has sufficient backbone to expel a team from the championship for breaching regulations, the rules will not be adhered to.

Still, the new regulations ought to succeed in cutting the official bill for inter-county training.

Maybe team managers might finally heed the warning from fitness expert Mike McGurn, who recently said that inter-county GAA teams train too much, and too hard.

But there is also a lot in the plan which confuses me and I don't agree with.

9 June 2019; Galway manager Miche�l Donoghue before the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 4 match between Kilkenny and Galway at Nowlan Park in Kilkenny. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Why, for example, are the top-flight hurling sides returning to action after a three-week pre-season, whereas their football counterparts require four weeks?

Professor Niall Moyna of DCU has said it makes little sense, as most county players are 80 per cent fit by the time they start pre-season anyway.

With a bit of innovative planning, such as midweek matches when the evenings are long, I believe sufficient time could have been found for qualifiers to be played in football.

We now have a situation where six of the counties competing in the Liam MacCarthy Cup face eight competitive games this year - whereas as many as 18 football teams will have only five games.

And, given that they have had seven months of inactivity already, is it fair to push club activity back to the autumn?

Why not a mid-summer slot, which worked so well last year?

As there is a reasonable chance of fans being allowed back into grounds at the tail end of the year, would it not have made more sense to retain the same schedule as last year, with the All-Ireland finals taking place in December.

Even though the water breaks serve no useful purpose, unfortunately they have been retained.

Basically, they destroy the flow of games, halting the momentum of the team on top while giving their opponents an opportunity to regroup.

They are now used by team managers as tactical breaks, and an opportunity for coaches to grab a bit of the limelight by wheeling out their whiteboards.

On the other hand, I broadly agree with former Galway hurling boss Micheál Donoghue who suggested that teams be allowed unlimited substitutes in the league.

With counties not allowed to play challenge games, many fringe players won't get a chance to play at all.

I wouldn't allow unlimited substitutions, but teams could use maybe eight or nine during league games.

I cannot help but think this was all a missed opportunity.

The GAA ought to have done a bit of outside-the-box thinking and experimented with something new, like the open draw in football.

Financially, it would not have impacted on the provincial councils as there will be no gate receipts from their series this summer.

The GAA now face a possible nightmare scenario on the last Sunday in July, when there is the distinct possibility of Fitzgerald Stadium hosting a behind-closed-doors Munster final between Kerry and Cork.

Thousands of holidaymakers will be eating and drinking outside - or maybe even indoors - down the town.

However, the turnstiles will be locked. Try rationalising that scenario.

By the way, spare a thought for those U-17 county managers who must juggle two teams when the action resumes - remember last year's All-Ireland series remains uncompleted.

Kerry and Roscommon won their respective provincial series, but the Leinster and Ulster champions are still unknown.

Finally, we had the provincial championship draws earlier in the week.

Incredibly, they were spread over two days and four RTE programmes.

It was a case of making a mountain out of a molehill.

I wonder did many people set their alarm clock for 7.35am on Tuesday morning to make sure they caught the Leinster football championship draw.

Somehow, I doubt if too many bothered.

The futility of the series was summed up by one pundit who suggested that the tastiest match was the quarter-final clash between Laois and Westmeath.

Last season Dublin's average winning margin in their three games was 18 points, they are going for 11 titles in a row, having won 15 of the last 16.

The only other counties to win 'the Leinster' during that period was Meath in 2010 - and even that comes with an asterisk.

I sincerely hope that Dublin's three games, including the final, are played outside Croke Park.

It won't make the slightest difference to the outcome, but it will improve the optics.

The funny thing is that, aside from the certainty that Dublin will win the title, the rest of the games in the east are likely to be competitive.

The average winning margin in last year's three preliminary-round matches was three points, and the only landslide result outside the Dublin matches was Meath's demolition of Wicklow.

The semi-final draw won't be made until the four teams are known. I can't wait for it.

The often-maligned Munster championship proved the doubters wrong last winter.

In four of the five matches the average winning margin was just over two points, and two of these games went to extra time.

Better still, we had new champions, with Tipperary's first win in 85 years.

The champions drew the short straw this time around with a probable semi-final against Kerry, who feature in the quarter-final - against Clare - for the first time since 1996.

The draw is set up for a Kerry v Cork final - and if it comes to pass, it will be the first in Killarney between the Old Firm since 2017.

Cork will be smarting after last year's shock final loss to Tipperary.

They have now lost four deciders on the spin and have a woeful record in finals in Killarney, having last beaten the home side in a decider there in 1995.

In last year's Connacht championship, Galway got a bye to the final - Sligo withdrew after a Covid-19 outbreak in the squad.

Mayo beat Leitrim and Roscommon before falling over the line in a woeful final.

It's early days yet - but it looks like it will be another Mayo v Galway decider out west.

Once again, the Ulster championship was the most competitive of the four provincial series in 2020.

In seven of the eight games the average winning margin was just over two points and one of those games - Cavan v Monaghan - went to extra time.

Appropriately, it has now thrown up the most appealing fixture in the early rounds of the 2021 provincial series, with defending champions Cavan facing Tyrone in the preliminary round. It promises to be a cracker.

I’m tipping Donegal in Ulster but Tyrone will challenge.

I still fancy Donegal to claim the title at the end of it all - even though they have again been dropped into the tougher half of the draw.

In a broader context the Ulster draw highlighted the inbuilt unfairness in the provincial system.

Whereas Dublin and Kerry can - and probably will - reach the All-Ireland semi-final without having to face a Division 1 team, on form the four semi-finalists in the Ulster series (Tyrone, Donegal, Armagh, and Monaghan) will have all played in the top flight this spring.

PS: Best wishes to Kerry's Peter Crowley on his retirement.

A traditional style, teak-tough, defender he was a rare commodity in modern-day Kerry football and will be difficult to replace.

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