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GAA schedule has a fair way to go

By Declan Bogue

Derry football boss Damian Barton was very responsive when the scheduling of the two main inter-county competitions was brought up last Sunday.

The GPA, who tabled something along the broad themes to their paymasters only to see it ignored, will have welcomed a current manager saying: "I've long campaigned for a League Championship format. There are teams who will never play the likes of Dublin and Kerry or whoever in Division One, and it's not fair.

"I think we should have a League Championship and condense our season. This is absolute nonsense that we're waiting six weeks to play a Championship game and the break there is if you're going through the back door."

Barton lost it, however, when he was asked how the Oak Leafs' league performances and overall campaign might shape attitudes ahead of their Ulster Championship meeting with Tyrone on May 22.

"I think our league campaign has no significance to our Championship," he replied.

Au contraire.

Our league has shown that those competing in Division One have a much greater chance of winning provincial and All-Ireland titles. Not since 2001 has a team from outside the top flight won Sam.

No significance to the Championship? Hardly.

Barton's comments on reform, however, are worthy of further study, certainly a strong enough item to tease out on, say, Newstalk's Off The Ball radio show.

While the league is critically important when the competition kicks off, it's not too much of a leap in logic to suspect that some Derry players might have had one eye on the opening round of club league fixtures this weekend.

The poor fixture-makers will be looking to get three, at the most four, rounds of the league rattled off - their busiest programme of games all year - before the players are wrapped in cotton wool for the visit of Tyrone.

At the same time, Barton's players are fighting tooth and nail against each other in club colours in a league renowned for its competitiveness.

Meanwhile, Mickey Harte has bought himself another few collective sessions and a Croke Park game with his players by reaching the Division Two final against Cavan.

Who has their hands tied in this scenario?

This shows the clear fault lines in scheduling for the two tiers of club and county, rather than granting them two exclusive and separate seasons.

A few weeks ago, Armagh selector Aidan O'Rourke pointed out to this writer: "I don't want to go off on a tangent, but the overall calendar and where the league sits in all of that… I saw a GPA stat that held that before the end of March, 75% of the county programme is over.

"I am not sure we have it all right. When you are playing first and second division, every game is highly competitive, people want to see them. To my mind, those regular games, even a system whereby we have five home and five away, would sit better with me if they were Championship matches."

We are stuck with a system that constantly lifts the handbrake once a bit of momentum finally gathers in our leagues.

When a gap appears in the inter-county game, there is a rush to fill it with club action.

It isn't fair on the clubs, isn't fair on the players and when you actually think about it, isn't fair on the fans either.

Belfast Telegraph


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