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GAA chiefs steeled to absorb 'radical' Calendar Fixtures Review Task Force proposals

Game changer: GAA president John Horan is overseeing
fixtures review
Game changer: GAA president John Horan is overseeing fixtures review
John Campbell

By John Campbell

When the GAA's powerful Central Council meets tomorrow to deliberate on proposals from the Calendar Fixtures Review Task Force, the word 'radical' may come into play.

The Task Force initially convened in June under the chairmanship of Eddie O'Sullivan, and over the course of a series of meetings - the final one of which took place on Wednesday night - it conducted a root and branch assessment of the overall fixtures calendar with a view to recommending possible restructuring and streamlining.

With Tier Two of the All-Ireland Football Championship having already been given the green light, county boards up and down the country are now bracing themselves for further amendments.

Formal ratification of significant changes to the fixtures calendar can only come via a decision at Congress in February but, with GAA president John Horan driving the current process, the Calendar Fixtures Review Task Force has not allowed the grass to grow under its feet.

It is understood that the Task Force may now make what one high-powered source describes as "rather radical" proposals in relation to fixtures planning.

"Obviously there are improvements required to the overall fixtures schedule but there has to be a meaningful marriage between county fixtures and club games," stated a spokesman.

"There needs to be more joined-up thinking in relation to fixtures and the Task Force is expected to provide evidence of this in its recommendations.

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"Some of these recommendations may be viewed as radical, but if you take some of the decisions which have been made recently - the black card, Tier Two of the All-Ireland series, penalty shoot-outs - these are considered as radical in many quarters."

There have already been amendments to the fixtures calendar for 2020, with the Ulster Under-20 competition to be staged in a condensed period spanning February and March, and with the Dr McKenna Cup commencing next month, and the All-Ireland Club semi-finals scheduled for January as well as the Sigerson Cup, it will mean that the season will be up and running before we know it.

In a way, the fixtures snarl-up which has bedevilled the month of March now appears to have been transferred to January.

While the four provincial Councils are understandably reluctant to see their individual championships shelved, Dublin being a powerful force in Leinster for so long and the Munster Championship never anything other than a two-horse race involving Kerry and Cork would appear to strengthen the hand of the Task Force in urging change.

There is a whisper abroad that an All-Ireland Championship format embracing four sections each containing eight teams could be a possibility, although this would be required to dovetail with the new Tier Two.

While the spotlight will certainly fall on the overall inter-county fixtures proposals that will ultimately emanate from tomorrow's discussions, there will also be a strong focus on what is expected to be a new-look club fixtures programme.

With April having been designated a club-only month, there is the possibility that this could now be carried into the greater part of May with senior provincial football championships in all four provinces - if maintained - commencing in tandem at the end of May.

And it is believed that the Task Force will impose fixed time parameters on the staging of the club championships in all counties.

Since the latter stages of September, there has been an unprecedented series of drawn games in Ulster, which led to confusion and not a little controversy simply because officials found themselves mired in highly unusual circumstances.

Ulster Senior Club Football finalists Naomh Conaill were forced to fulfil four Championship games within a fortnight, while Antrim chairman Ciaran McCavana found it necessary to intervene when the Lamh Dhearg v Casements Portglenone semi-final replay went to a penalty shoot-out, urging that a further replay should take place instead, which is what happened.

The Task Force is determined that situations such as these should not be replicated and an appeal is likely to be made to county boards to ensure that their fixtures programmes are completed on schedule.

In the not too distant past, club matches tended to be called off, often at the eleventh hour, for the most tenuous reasons.

One of the big problems confronting the Association, of course, is that a player can only be in one place at a time.

That's something which looks set to be taken on board more fully going forward - at least, let's hope that this proves to be the case.

Belfast Telegraph

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