Task Force comes out in favour of All-Ireland overhaul
The Fixtures Calendar Review Task Force have made no fewer than 32 recommendations which could potentially transform the playing season.
The recommendations are expected to impact across all levels of club and inter-county competitions including the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.
In this connection, the Task Force has come up with two possible permutations which look certain to trigger robust debate going forward.
The first format suggests four provincial football championship competitions, each consisting of eight teams, split into two groups of four and seeded based on Allianz League positions and playing in a round robin format. Final league positions would determine the movement of counties into the required four eights.
The second format proposes that the Allianz Football League should be played during the summer months rather than in spring as at present, with the various provincial championships being brought forward to the February/March period.
The League would then determine the pathway for counties to qualify for the All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals.
At the heart of the recommendations is the objective of attempting to strike a better balance and degree of certainty to the playing of club fixtures alongside the inter-county fixtures programme.
To help achieve this, a key recommendation is the creation of a new Oversight Unit that would see four full-time Fixtures Analysts appointed, one in each province, who would assist counties in planning their club fixture programmes.
This new Oversight Unit would have responsibility for helping to ensure clubs had more access to their county players, that all available dates to play club games with county players are utilised and would have the power to impose sanctions on counties for breaches of rule.
It would also be responsible for ensuring counties submit club fixture plans by the end of December and would make sure that county teams respect the closed season and the various other restrictions on inter-county activity outlined in the GAA rulebook. Under these proposals, inter-county training would not start back before December 1.
It is clear that the creation of the Oversight Unit and the appointment of the Fixtures Analysts are designed to focus a much greater scrutiny on the playing of club fixtures in particular, and to make sure that rules governing county team training schedules are adhered to among other elements.
It had been thought that when the Club Players Association distanced itself from the Task Force that a cold front might ensue with the Gaelic Players Association, but this is not the case at all.
Down hurling manager Ronan Sheehan has been the GPA representative on the Task Force and he confirms that discussions are ongoing between the two bodies.
"I think we have to be sensible here," says Lloyds Bank business development manager Sheehan. "County players are also club players, so there has to be common ground. As a Task Force, we feel we have come up with recommendations that have the interests of all players at heart.
"The measures which we are suggesting in relation to the playing of club fixtures will be seen as a mechanism whereby existing governance can be tightened up. It is important that players at club level are given every chance to play, particularly at what are viewed to be prime periods of the summer from a GAA perspective."
Sheehan also stresses that streamlined club fixtures structures are essential if the GAA is to retain its players.
"We shouldn't forget that players can still enjoy recreational soccer on Saturdays without having to engage in some of the demands such as strength and conditioning that are made on them in Gaelic games," adds Sheehan.
The Task Force report will now go out to counties and clubs for debate before being presented to Central Council in January, after which it is intended that there will be a series of regional seminars around the country, with clubs from every county invited to have a representative present to engage and provide feedback.
It is envisaged that a number of motions will be on the agenda for the 2020 Annual Congress at the end of February, with the remainder being tabled at a Special Congress which will be held later next year.
If adopted, the earliest the new recommendations would be in place for is the 2021 season.