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Harte and McConville glad as fixture list is discussed

By John Campbell

The best part of 20 years has elapsed since the Belfast Telegraph strongly mooted the bringing forward of the All-Ireland hurling and football finals by two weeks.

In tandem with this, it was also urged that the complete fixture schedule should be finished within the calendar year and that the log-jam of games in the January-March period in particular should be addressed.

Finally, all three issues are now to be given serious consideration by GAA chiefs over the coming months as a total of 11 key proposals in Director General Paraic Duffy's comprehensive 'Player overtraining and burn-out and the GAA fixtures calendar' discussion document are digested in detail.

Duffy admits that his personal reluctance to see the All-Ireland finals brought forward had its roots in fears that this would open a bigger window for the showcasing of soccer and rugby on television.

It would seem, though, that the strident voices of club officers, county board officials and other assorted GAA administrators are now adding belated backing to a Telegraph crusade that initially fell on deaf ears but which has, if anything, gained considerable resonance with the passage of time.

And a number of high-profile Ulster GAA personalities, including triple All-Ireland-winning Tyrone boss Mickey Harte and former Armagh All-Ireland winner and current Crossmaglen Rangers manager Oisin McConville, have been quick to laud what is seen as a bold initiative to re-draw the GAA fixtures landscape.

Harte said: "There is no doubt that the Championship season needs condensed. I think that need has been apparent for a while now but I would not be in favour of dispensing with the Under-21 Championship. There is overall detail still to be consumed."

Playing the All-Ireland hurling final in mid-August and the football final on the first Sunday in September frees up valuable time for the completion of County Championships and the evenings are brighter.

The suggestion that the fixture schedule for a single calendar year should become de rigueur from 2018 makes sense - the staging of All-Ireland Club semi-finals and finals in the year following competing teams' provincial successes has never appealed to everyone - and the palpable desire at last to tackle the January-March fixtures log-jam is indeed a welcome bonus.

The notion that July or August can be the busiest months in the GAA calendar is nonsense. A glance at the current fixture schedule for March will confirm that it comprises the Allianz Football League, the Allianz Hurling League, the Ulster U21 Football Championship, the Sigerson Cup, the Fitzgibbon Cup, the MacRory Cup, the All-Ireland Club Hurling final and the All-Ireland Club Football final.

The current proposals to scrap the U21 Football Championship, complete the club programme in a calendar year and stage Allianz League football and hurling fixtures on the same Sunday rather than on alternative weekends will lighten the March load.

McConville declared: "Under-21 players are more often than not required by their universities, their county senior bosses and their county U21 bosses at that time. And I haven't even mentioned their clubs.

"The demands on them are incessant. This leads to burn-out and there is also a terrible co-relation between training sessions and games. Players can only give so much and if they are putting a huge effort into training and getting relatively little game time, this makes no sense at all."

"Unless this is dealt with, we are going to have serious problems down the line."

Belfast Telegraph


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