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Players could reap benefits if fixtures calendar is tweaked

By Joe Kernan

There are something like 2,500 GAA clubs in Ireland. Today, Ulster is home to the two top clubs in hurling and football.

That might have been deemed unthinkable not so long ago but times have changed.

It used to be that Ulster clubs were regarded as ‘country cousins’ when it came to winning the top honours but not any more.

Loughgiel’s feat in winning the All-Ireland hurling title was nothing short of magnificent while the achievement of Crossmaglen Rangers in landing a sixth All-Ireland football crown since 1997 must go down as a truly historic triumph.

Ulster is surely on the crest of a wave just now on the club front and there could be more success at schools level too on Saturday when St Michael’s Enniskillen are involved in the Hogan Cup final.

But while I naturally welcome the All-Ireland club successes, I would reiterate my appeal to the GAA authorities to conclude both competitions within the calendar year.

I see no good reason why the hurling and football series cannot be completed by the end of November. This might involve some tweaking of the fixtures calendar but I don’t think any sector of the GAA will be discomfited because of this.

The benefits of completing the competitions in the same year are many fold. The long delay between provincial title success and All-Ireland semi-final action will be avoided, players will retain their focus much better, county players in the squads will be able to assist their counties from the start of January, the claustrophobic February-March fixtures programme will be less congested and the matches can be accorded television time which will not be in conflict with other competitions.

Indeed, a bid to complete the All-Ireland club series before December would ensure that county boards will take even stronger steps to ensure that their domestic championships are finished speedily so that the provincial championships can be played off smoothly.

While the GAA is confronted by several issues at the moment — the payment of managers, the overall disciplinary process, on-field violence — I feel that the sooner that a decision is arrived at in relation to completing the All-Ireland club series within a calendar year, the better for all concerned.

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