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Our volunteers need helping hand

By Declan Bogue

Published 29/06/2016

Queue here: Fixture havoc arising from replays has put the squeeze on volunteers and gatemen
Queue here: Fixture havoc arising from replays has put the squeeze on volunteers and gatemen
The Cavan and Tyrone scoreboard

So, we can look forward to a big game on Saturday night in Cavan, followed by another blockbuster less than 24 hours later in Clones.

What's that you hear? Oh, just the sound of champagne corks going off in the Armagh offices of the Ulster Council, flush with their good fortune. Lighting cigars with £20 notes and all that.

We joke, of course. Additional revenue comes with a series of enormous logistical difficulties to stage the replays.

When Tyrone and Cavan's Ulster Championship semi-final finished level two Sundays ago, it came as a surprise that the second helping would not be for a fortnight - and now we have the Monaghan against Donegal replay, too.

The extra week has played havoc with fixture scheduling, the equivalent of the flap of a butterfly's wings in the Amazon causing a tornado in Texas.

Most counties create their master fixture plan after studying the National Fixtures Plan. League games are devised and set out from this point onward and Championships are tied down. Imagine the frustration of fixture secretaries in counties that see their painstakingly formulated plans go out the window in a week like this.

You look at a county such as Derry, who would have been working out their training loads in preparation for their Round 2A game against Meath this weekend.

Now the CCCC have been forced to kick the can down the road for a week, preferring all Round 2A games to be played on the same weekend, which includes the loser of Tyrone-Cavan.

The unsuccessful Ulster side will face Carlow at home. They will also face a schedule of five - FIVE - games in July in their bid to make it to an All-Ireland semi-final.

The six-day turnaround also continues to frustrate players and managers, such as Declan Byrne of Louth, who told local radio station LMFM after bowing out of the Championship to Derry: "We trained for six or seven months for the Meath game and to be beaten and asked to play again six days later is very frustrating.

"The GPA are the organisation that should have come in on that. They speak about player welfare but nothing has materialised."

Here we come to the problem, and let it be known that this corner is absolving the GPA of blame.

The need for volunteers is hurting provincial councils. There was a time when entering the gates of Clones was like crossing Checkpoint Charlie. Although they are volunteering, they take it very seriously. The Ulster Council now have a tight squad of efficient, courteous and friendly stewards and gatemen.

But because they are volunteers, it should be too much of an ask for them to attend two games this weekend. The draw in Cavan has forced the Council's hand, though, and there was no option but to ask them to give up their entire weekend for the health of Ulster GAA.

The very idea of separating the qualifiers into 'A' and 'B' sides was to do away with the six-day turnaround. Since then, some provincial councils have freestyled it, eschewing the safeguards that were put in place. In future, if influential policy drivers in the GAA get their wish, the provincial Championships will find themselves streamlined.

When that happens, the shortfall of volunteers becomes a greater issue than you would ever have considered. As one GAA figure said to another this week: "The Ulster Council need a Development Squad for gatemen."

Belfast Telegraph

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