Belfast Telegraph

Condensing fixture list would solve absurd imbalance

By Declan Bogue

This Saturday night, Tyrone will play their sixth game of 2015, and we are still not out of January yet.

Twelve months ago, they had roughly the same schedule, playing their league opener, a draw against Derry in Celtic Park, on February 1. The only difference between this year and last is down to a quirk of the calendar.

This run of games suits players. While they are playing games, they know that the nights of slogging through muck and gutters will be at a minimum.

The problem is, however, that players are almost having to peak three or four times a season. Competitions are carved up by other competitions forcing play to stop on occasion, while another cup can be played for while the first is on hold.

In the GAA, eccentricities are endless when it comes to player commitments. Take Mattie Donnelly for example. Last winter he was bringing his season to a close with his club, Trillick.

He started the year doing pre-season training with Tyrone. He then played for his college, University of Ulster Jordanstown, in the group stages of the McKenna Cup.

Once their involvement came to an end, he was straight back in for the semi-final with Tyrone - starting and playing the entire game against Armagh, and coming on at half-time in the final to steady the ship against Cavan.

As Tyrone begin their National League campaign on Saturday night, under the Healy Park lights and live on television, he will be a key figure when they host Monaghan.

Vital league points are on offer as well as settling a few old scores after Monaghan achieved their first win over Tyrone in Championship football in 26 years last summer.

Just eight days later, he will be in Castlebar for another vital league game against one of the strongest teams in the country in Mayo. Immediately after that, his focus will rapidly switch to Jordanstown again as they attempt to turn all that firepower - Killian Clarke, Cillian O'Connor, Paddy McBrearty and so on - into Sigerson gold.

Once that's over and done with, it will be back with Tyrone, coming off a peak to try and peak again in time for the start of the Championship. And then Trillick might get whatever is left of him by the time he gets through all that.

No other sport routinely sets roadblocks up for themselves like the GAA. The answer lies not only in condensing the provincial Championships and All-Ireland series, but condensing everything.

In doing so, you run the risk of criticism, but defences along the lines of 'Twas always thus' are ultimately hollow. Likewise the cries for regular football for clubs have to be put in context. Colm O'Rourke expressed concern that club programmes could be wrapped up by mid-August, but that might illustrate that they are being played in a suitable timeframe.

Is it right that the Mattie Donnelly's of this world can play upwards of 10 games in the first eight weeks of the year?

Of course it's not.

Belfast Telegraph

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