GAA Allianz NFL Division 4

No easy solution to Club v County Fixture mayhem

Leitrim will have had one competitive game in ten weeks when they take on New York on May 6

John Connolly

Reporter:

John Connolly

Email:

sports@leitrimobserver.ie

Leitrim's London clash refixed for end of March

A snowy McGovern Park in Ruislip saw Leitrim's game against London cancelled

Short of putting a roof on the country, there is no easy solution to the fixture conundrum the GAA are facing after the latest blast of snow decimated Sunday's Allianz League programme.

A laudable effort to leave April free for the club game has come back to bite the GAA in a major way after two bouts of extreme weather wiped out entire sets of Allianz League Hurling & Football fixtures.

Croke Park is getting it hot and heavy from all quarters for their failure to anticipate extreme weather events and leaving space in the calendar for postponed games!

Forget about the fact that the Beast from the East brought a snow-event that hadn't been seen in Ireland in 36 years. Or that the weather forecasters got caught cold by the St. Patrick’s weekend snow blast.

Quite how anyone can predict in October when they are drawing up a Master Fixture List what the weather will be like in February and March is beyond comprehension! Maybe use a crystal ball!

It is annoying and inconvenient when games are called off at short notice, the ire of Leitrim players completely understandable when the game against Waterford, and Monday's refixed game, were called off.

But in fairness to local officials in Waterford, both were called off before 8.30 am on the morning of both games so, honestly, ask yourself - what more could they do?

Remember, Leitrim's FBD League game against Sligo was called off less than an hour before the scheduled throw-in time earlier this year with the players gathered in Ballinamore. The refixed game was called off at midday and then switched out of the county.

And it isn't that long ago that an All-Ireland Football Qualifier against Tyrone in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada fell victim to a biblical downpour that flooded the pitch - and that was in July!

The entire Leitrim club championship programme that year was delayed due to the terrible weather in July while it was only two years ago that double headers were ruled out in the Club Quarter and Semi-Finals in Leitrim due to the appalling pitch conditions due to heavy rain.

And our neighbours Roscommon had to host an Allianz NFL game against Dublin in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada some years ago when Hyde Park was deemed unplayable on the morning of the game - and that was after conceding home advantage in a Connacht U21 Final the day before!

So there really isn't a time of the year that doesn't get affected by bad weather and trying to find some utopian idea of the best time of the year to play games is as far fetched as it is impractical.

Games at every level have to be accommodated, be it club, county or colleges and while critics have blasted the decision to compress both Hurling and Football Leagues, the aim was to create more time for the club game, an idea everyone agrees with - in theory at least.

Leitrim, with our tiny population, are the smallest in the country yet every year there is fixture congestion, postponements and fixture clashes and clubs are just as culpable as the big wigs in Croke Park for fixture congestion.

Strangely, I haven't heard many advocating less club games, a return to the old familiar one-and-done knock-out system and do away with Group games in the club championships - that would free up lots of time, reduce demands on players and on club finances but, no more than the county brigade, everyone is fighting their corner from their own perspective.

Clubs in Leitrim had the chance last December to vote for a reduction in the number of teams for the Leagues but voted against it, despite clear irrefutable evidence that the vast majority of players were for it and supported the idea of playing League games without their County contingent!

And then there is the Player eligibility derogation in Leitrim which ensures that one or two or three players can hold up two or three club championships!

And it isn't unusual to hear club delegates proclaim each and every year that  players have no interest in playing League games after the championship ends have ended meaning that some clubs in Leitrim won't have had a competitive first team game between last September and the beginning of April - a staggering seven month gap!

Playing games without County players is a bullet that is going to have been bitten on eventually but perhaps adopting the system in Monaghan where there are two rounds of the League but the round played without County players have less points attached to them.

It would mean the vast majority of Club players could continue playing away during February, March, May & June without their County players but when they come back for “County Player” games, there are more points on offer.

Of course, to have two rounds, you’d have to less teams in a Division and that is where the short-sighted decision of clubs to reject the idea of ten team Divisions next year is coming back to bite everyone hard.

As I’ve said before, the drive to free up more time for the club game is laudable and the Leitrim County Board are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the two postponed Allianz League games against London and Waterford.

The London game has been shelved, cost perhaps as much of a factor, and it looks like the Waterford game will follow suit, a decision that will please clubs who will see their players spring into action over the Easter weekend in Division One and Two.

But there could be a major cost that everyone is overlooking - Brendan Guckian’s team played four FBD League games and one Allianz League game in the month of January. The first two weekends of February saw the Laois and Carlow games and then, two weeks later, the win over Limerick.

If the Waterford game doesn’t go ahead, and there are good reasons for it not to, then Leitrim Senior footballers will have had one competitive game between Sunday, February 25, and Sunday, May 6, and that is against Wicklow this Sunday!

That’s one competitive game in ten weeks and that is hardly the ideal preparation for what promises to be a testing and tough encounter in New York. Roscommon escaped by the skin of their teeth two years ago and Sligo only pulled away in the final ten minutes, a misleading final scoreline hiding their struggles.

So while the importance of the club game cannot be overstressed, imagine the fall-out and long term trauma on the Leitrim footballing psyche if a Jamie Clarke inspired New York beat Leitrim in Gaelic Park on May 6?

It will take a far better mind than mind to work out a solution but as long as clubs and counties continue to pull from the same pool of players, then there is no easy solution! Short of putting a roof on the country as we already suggested!