Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 30 October 2014

Joe Kernan: Fix the fixtures mess and we will all benefit

When it comes to fixtures planning, the GAA continues to show a marked disregard for its own welfare and that of the paying customers.

Right from the outset of the current championship season, it has been very much a feast or a famine in terms of the scheduling of matches, particularly in the provincial football championships and the All-Ireland Qualifiers.

In mid-May the meeting of Donegal and Antrim launched the Ulster series and being the only major football fixture on the national landscape that day it received saturation coverage.

Foul weather, a preoccupation on the part of both teams with defensive strategy and a marked lack of atmosphere contributed to a sub-standard match that has long since been enthusiastically consigned by many to the dark recesses of the memory bank.

Fast forward to last Sunday and the much more entertaining Derry v Armagh clash formed the high-profile football menu for the weekend.

Yet this weekend there are eight first round qualifier ties on Saturday, two Leinster semi-finals fixed for Croke Park on Sunday, the Galway v Mayo Connacht semi-final in Castlebar and, of course, the attractive Ulster semi-final between Tyrone and Donegal.

I want to direct one question to the fixtures planners — would it not have been a good idea to have arranged four of the All Ireland Qualifiers for last Saturday on what was a fairly thin weekend in terms of top-class matches?

Looking further down the line, the Munster football final is on July 3 which means that the winners will not get another game for a month when they will play in the All Ireland quarter-finals.

The Leinster decider is on July 10 which means that the winners will have a three-week wait before they taste action whereas the losers of both the Munster and Leinster finals will be pitched straight into action in the Qualifiers.

The Ulster and Connacht finals are due to be played on July 17 which means that the winners will be back in action a fortnight later — but the losers will be in action sooner than that.

I believe that the overall championship could be further streamlined and this would not only benefit the players but would also meet with the approval of fans.

And given that crowds are not what they were, everything possible needs to be done to keep people coming through the turnstiles.

The fact that the GAA authorities have formally confirmed that match admission prices, apart from the All-Ireland finals, are to be reduced is certainly a welcome revelation.

This means that family groups in particular will now benefit from the reductions and the move might just prove the key to bringing more fans into the stands and onto the terraces.

I know that many Donegal fans have been heartened by the decision to overturn the red card incurred by their skipper Michael Murphy against Cavan and will now be taking to the road for St Tiernach’s Park on Sunday conscious that their team will have a better chance of success against the Red Hands.

Incidentally, the successful appeals by Murphy and Monaghan’s Dick Clerkin against red cards drew ire from my old friend Colm O’Rourke, the RTE analyst, who was clearly unhappy with the manner in which Brian Farrell from his own county of Meath had been dealt.

Farrell too was served with a red card for what Colm described as “a gentle slap” but he is now out of action for a month because of suspension, his appeal having failed.

This prompted Colm to suggest — maybe not quite tongue in cheek — that the GAA should establish a cock-up committee which could meet every Monday to study the mistakes made by referees over the course of the previous weekend.

I would prefer that the GAA instead set up a common sense committee which would address such issues. Let’s face it, many of the more controversial decisions by referees are arrived at because of a lack of pure common sense.

Just as with fixtures planning, the GAA authorities should apply logic, coherence and tolerance rather than rigidity, cold-heartedness and virtual disdain when implementing decisions, even though many of these have to be made on the spur of the moment by referees.

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