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Oisin McConville: Let's get a grip on club fixtures

By John Campbell

New Crossmaglen Rangers joint manager Oisin McConville is urging that the All-Ireland club football and hurling championships should be completed in the same calendar year as the provincial championships which provide the competing teams.

The 2002 Armagh All-Ireland winner – his goal in that epic final against Kerry tilted the scales in the Orchard County's favour – is one of many high-profile figures keen to see what some feel is an archaic practice terminated so that fixtures planning can be facilitated even further and that the high ration of competitions which are currently staged in the month of March can be trimmed.

As things stand, March hosts Allianz Football and Hurling League games, the Sigerson Cup, the Ulster U21 Football Championship, the MacRory Cup semi-finals and final, the All-Ireland club football and hurling finals and usually heralds the start of All County League fixtures.

There has been a growing level of concern surrounding the fact that teams which win their provincial championships in November do not sample All-Ireland club semi-final action until February and, if successful, must then engage in the All-Ireland final on St Patrick's Day.

"It's much too protracted," contends McConville.

"I always got a great kick out of playing in Croke Park with Crossmaglen on St Patrick's Day but we all have to be prepared to look at the bigger picture here.

"It's ludicrous that players have to put their lives on hold."

And McConville, one of the most decorated players in the history of the GAA with 16 Armagh championship medals, 10 Ulster gongs and six All-Ireland honours with his club in addition to seven Ulster medals and an All-Ireland prize with his county, maintains that for many club players any year brings non-stop action.

"There are boys with the more successful teams who are training straight through from January until November and that's a big ask. I think that if the All-Ireland club championships and indeed the provincial championships were to be streamlined it would be in the best interests of everyone, not least the people who matter most – the actual players," states McConville.

Fixtures programming is a constant theme at club and county conventions which are currently being held, with Antrim secretary Frankie Quinn the latest official to emphasise that delivering "structured and compliant" club fixtures should be a core issue for county boards in particular.

McConville enthusiastically endorses this view and in a week in which the Donegal media have decided to boycott next Sunday's convention over matters not unrelated to club fixtures planning, the Armagh legend pleads with the GAA hierarchy to "look long and hard" at the scheduling of the All-Ireland club series.

"There is no reason why all counties should not have their domestic championship programmes completed by early October at the latest and this should allow for the All-Ireland club series to be finished by mid-November," insists McConville.

"Some counties are allowed to drag their heels in terms of staging fixtures and this is unacceptable. We keep hearing from on high that the players are the most important asset the GAA possesses but this is not always reflected in the way they are treated.

"I would like the GAA authorities to look long and hard at fixtures planning. It is a very important element and the sooner it is addressed the better."

McConville and his co-manager John McEntee – who have taken over from Joe Kernan – are already getting down to business with Crossmaglen and their initial goal is to parade the strongest possible side.

"We were missing several high-profile players this year including Jamie Clarke, James Morgan, Paul Kernan and Ronan Finnegan among others but this opened the door for newcomers to make their pitch for places and in fairness several acquitted themselves very well," points out McConville.

"This gives us great heart going forward and is indeed one of the reasons why John and I decided to take on the job.

"Crossmaglen Rangers have become conditioned to success and it will be our brief to continue to deliver on this."

Belfast Telegraph

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