talking point | 

We need to stop hiding the GAA’s elite athletes away for most of the year

The GAA’s new split-season means we have only five Sundays of action left

Cheddar Plunkett

John Brennan

So here we are. I write these words on the longest day, a time of year when the GAA Championships would usually just be cranking into real life with the first big match where a strong hurling or football county makes an early exit for the year.

Instead, the GAA’s new split-season means we have only five Sundays of action left and teams like Tyrone and Donegal footballers and Cork, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford hurlers are already done for the summer.

The reason for this rush is to give the much put-upon club player a clear run of Championship fixtures when the weather is at its best, so that club players can enjoy playing their games in July and August and not in the muck of November when they have to turn out week after week to get the games played.

But that is not happening. Not according to a quick trawl of county websites in counties where they have long since finished with county activity, and could certainly have their top competitions up and running.

Down footballers are weeks finished for 2022, but there is no date for the start of their SFC. But there are county league matches planned all the way to July 29, so the Senior Championship is not likely to begin until after that date.

The draws for the Waterford SHC and the Meath SFC are there on the county website, every club knows who they will be playing. But they don’t know when, because there are no dates for the games provided.

Both Laois county teams are out for 2022, but there are no dates for their top hurling or football competitions either.

Indeed, when Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett resigned as Laois hurling manager last week, one of the reasons he gave for doing it then was to allow the County Board ample time to appoint his replacement before the County Championship started. So it looks like nothing much is happening in the Laois SHC for a while.

Two honourable exceptions to all this are Dublin and Tipperary, who have at least got dates finalised for the hurling.

Dublin will begin their SHC on the 20th of July, having been eliminated from Leinster on May 21st, while Tipp will start four days after the Dubs on July 24th.

But get this, Tipperary plan to play their County Hurling Final on October 9th, four and a half months after they were knocked out of Munster.

Why all the delay? Well the word is County Secretaries are trying to get going but are being stopped by clubs who are trying to deal with players who don’t want to play Championship games in June and July because of holidays, work, travel etc.

A big issue appears to be a pent up demand among young people, after two Covid years, for J1 visas to the USA. They’ve gone and clubs now don’t want to play without them.

I know of one top club in Dublin where the officers and team management are already on the phone to four key players begging them to come back from Chicago in early August so that they can train for a fortnight before the Dublin Football Championship gets going on August 16.

The lads, having the time of their lives after three severe lockdowns in two years, are not for moving.

It was interesting to see Irish Independent columnist Eamonn Sweeney recently taking up a suggestion made long ago by our Sunday World GAA correspondent Sean McGoldrick, that the GAA should split its seasons. But not between club and county, but between football and hurling.

Play inter-county hurling, and club football, from February to June, and then inter-county football and club hurling, from July to November. And then shut it all down for two months and give everyone a rest.

It’s simple, everyone gets a guaranteed list of fixtures for the year and a much better solution than hiding the GAA’s elite athletes away for most of the year.

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