Why are people who backed the GAA's split season now totally against it?

The Munster SHC round-robin games, such as Waterford versus Clare, has attracted healthy attendances. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

No organisation does ‘buyer’s remorse’ better than the GAA.

At the 2021 GAA Congress held remotely due to Covid-19 restrictions, a motion proposing a split season was passed by acclaim.

There was no ambiguity about what was been proposed: the GAA season would be split between inter-county and club with the All-Ireland finals being played on or before the 29th Sunday of the year.

Now, less than six weeks into the new calendar, all hell has broken loose. One would be forgiven for thinking the end is nigh for the GAA because the All-Ireland finals will be played in July.

Funny, with the exception of Sunday World columnist Pat Spillane, there were few dissenting voices in the GAA punditry world when the proposal was mooted.

Now everybody is jumping on the anti-split-season wagon. They have short memories.

Prior to Covid-19 there was a broad acceptance that the delicate balance of power between club and inter-county was skewed totally in favour of the latter.

I have long advocated the need for a different kind of split season.

This model would keep the GAA’s primary products in the shop window for nine months of the year as well as facilitating 99 per cent of club and county players.

Seán McMahon of Dublin in action against Jimmy Hyland in the Allianz League game. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The All-Ireland football championship and club hurling would run simultaneously between February and June with the All-Ireland hurling championship and club football taking place between July and October.

The controversy over the timing of the All-Ireland finals underlines how dysfunctional the GAA Congress has become. It was a momentous decision which required much discussion, with inputs from all the stakeholders.

Switching the All-Ireland finals to July and squeezing the entire All-Ireland series into a 15-week time frame were momentous decisions, which required much discussions with inputs from all involved.

The GAA has a long history of making decisions with members failing to understand their consequences until they impact directly on them.

That said, there is also an in-built resistance to change in every organisation; as a species we love our routines.

It is far too early to make any definitive judgment on the merit of the split season.

County Boards are still behind the curve in terms of making the plan work for club players, which it was primarily designed to facilitate.

Seán McMahon of Dublin in action against Jimmy Hyland in the Allianz League game. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

For instance, whereas in Kerry and Dublin county leagues are ongoing, the club league in Mayo doesn’t start until next weekend.

However, the suggestion that there is a lack of interest in the All-Ireland series due to their timing is spurious.

There is no lack of spectator interest in either the Leinster or Munster hurling championships.

An allocation of 11,000 terrace tickets for the Limerick v Clare Munster final sold out in 11 minutes on Thursday. All the signs are that Semple Stadium will be sold out on Sunday week for the first provincial final showdown between Limerick and Clare since 1995.

Attendances at the round-robin games in Munster rose by 6.5 per cent compared to 2018, the most comparable of years when venues and pairings are considered. The ten games over six weekends attracted a total attendance of 216,816.

Notwithstanding the fact that Sunday’s Ulster final in Clones between Donegal and Derry is a sell-out, there is no denying the fact that the football championship has mostly passed under the radar so far.

Was it ever any different? The lack of engagement was little to do with the timing of the competition. It has everything to do with the uncompetitive nature of the provincial series.

Saturday’s Leinster final will probably see a record low attendance in modern times. It will be attributed to the fact that it clashes with the European Cup final in rugby between Leinster and La Rochelle.

Arguably, if enough punters thought they would witness a competitive game in Croke Park they would forgo their armchair and turn up.

The problem with the football championship is not the timing, it is the uncompetitive nature of the provincial series with the exception of Ulster and to a much lesser extent Connacht.

I have argued here that the decision of the GAA Congress this spring not to run the All-Ireland series on a round-robin format, based on placings in the league, rather the provincial series, will go down in history as the worst decision they ever made.

So, instead of revisiting the decision to condense the All-Ireland series, what the GAA should debate at a special Congress this autumn is the ditched proposal to reform the football series.

And I doubt if anybody would object if it was also decided to extend the inter-county by a month and have the All-Ireland played on the third and fourth Sundays in August.

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