The big debate in the Oak Leaf county this week surrounds fixtures. The club championship was put on hold with the county senior team’s run in the qualifiers. The Intermediate competition is well underway and over the next two weekends the rest of the club players will take to the senior and junior championship stage.
With the county minors also through to the All-Ireland Semi-Final later this month, there is somewhat of a fixtures dilemma. Like many other counties, it’s a case of same story, different year and a clash between club and county.
In Derry there are two divided opinions. In one camp you have those who feel it is unfair to ask the county minors to play championship games for their clubs the week before their big Croke Park date with Kerry. On the other hand, club players across the county have been idle all summer, sitting around waiting on action. It’s not an easy situation.
In my frustration and lack of accurate knowledge I often used to lay the blame at the door of the county CCC. My outlook has changed somewhat. With the long drawn out programme of county games, it is very difficult for the fixtures personnel to fit in club games.
Last year my club Slaughtneil competed in the Ulster football and hurling championships with a substantial number of dual players. For these lads in particular it was tough to keep fresh and injury free. With draws, extra time and replays the period from August to November was an extremely busy one. It was a struggle at times but to be fair the Derry CCC organised the games as well as they possibly could.
Clubs are very important to us and that mentality must remain. We should always be very proud of our roots. However, it was also a terrific moment last month when Derry minors won the Ulster title, a first since 2002. These young lads face a hectic schedule over the next few weeks. As an association going forward we need to find a better balance.
I think those at the top level of GAA administration need to consider condensing the county season. In some quarters, there are appeals to get rid of the provincial championships but in my opinion, this is not the solution. The Ulster Football Championship is a terrific product and we don’t want it to disappear.
Why would we? It always produces highly competitive games and the Anglo Celt Cup is a most sought after prize. Going up the hill in Clones on Ulster Final day is a moment to relish for players and supporters alike. However, I feel it takes too long to run these competitions off. The same applies to the other provinces.
Instead of taking four weeks to play the first round of the Ulster Championship, why not play two games on a Saturday, followed by two games on a Sunday? A similar approach could be adopted for the semi-finals, freeing up a few weekends and giving fixture administrators much needed flexibility to cater for clubs. This is a win-win situation for everyone. Well almost everyone.
The amount of work that goes on behind the scenes on match days is huge. In Ulster, the events team demonstrate terrific organisational and event management skills to ensure the smooth running of proceedings It doesn’t just happen.
The amended format would put a greater burden on those organisers. Maybe what I have suggested is not logistically possible and needs tweaked, but we need to try something. If the inter-county season can be shortened, even by four or five weeks it would make a huge difference to the club scene.
I feel that the qualifier system also needs refined. This is the difficult part. We don’t want to deny counties like Fermanagh having a rollercoaster of a summer but on the other hand it only prolongs the inevitable exit to one of the big guns.
In summary, if the provincial championships and the qualifiers can be streamlined in some way it would give us more time for club games, with two different formats. Either in the middle of the season on dedicated club weekends or just move the entire county season forward and start a separate club season in late summer.
This is a debate for another day. The solution is not going to come overnight, but there are two very important facts in the GAA. Our club defines us and is very important to our identity. Secondly it is an honour to represent your county. We need to find a better solution allowing Gaels to serve both masters.
As Derry’s twitter hashtag suggests #CandC – Club and County.