Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport GAA

Kernan and Shiels raise their concerns on 'club-only' month


By Declan Bogue

In the mind of Aaron Kernan, the situation in which he finds himself this weekend is quite incredible given the way Armagh have wrestled control of their fixtures schedule over the last couple of years.

The context is that Armagh were one of the few county boards in Ireland to have nailed down a proper fixture schedule for all clubs, with dates and competitions and an opportunity for players to plan their lives around football and hurling.

In short, it is exactly the kind of solution the Club Player's Association are talking about with their pledge to 'fix the fixtures.'

But the Armagh county team's training camp trip to Portugal -when they departed on Thursday and didn't get back until Sunday, which is set to land them a sanction from the GAA - has left things in a muddle for Crossmaglen Rangers.

They were due to play Dromintee, and the county board left it with clubs if they wanted to play without their county men.

Cross were happy enough, but Dromintee refused as they would be without Aaron McKay and Darren McKenna. They can't be blamed either as, sitting with one point from three games played already, their Championship seeding is dependent on their league placing.

All around the country, there are issues. A number of players were unable to play for their club last weekend in Donegal, and yet featured for the county in a mid-week challenge match against Mayo.

At present, they are in a training camp in Belfast with clubs concerned about how fresh their players will be with a round of fixtures scheduled for Sunday.

In Connacht, Championship opponents Mayo and Galway have not grasped the concept at all and a number of inter-county challenge matches have popped up in midweek.

"Has it worked?" asks Kernan. "I would say absolutely it has not worked and I think that is fairly clear across the board.

"There are disputes popping up across all counties but that was to be expected because, as you know, once county boards are given a template to run, it is up to each county to look after their own."

It is only natural that if the Armagh camp were to break rules and head for a warm weather training camp, they might have sought some secrecy, but Kernan answers that by suggesting that fixtures could have been worked around this weekend.

"This was one incident, it could have easily have been avoided and, given the tradition in Armagh, I am surprised it wasn't avoided," he said.

"They didn't need to tell anybody, because it is nobody's business if they are going on a training camp. That's fine. All they had to do was fix the fixtures around it. Even if they were freeing up a few days for Armagh to go away, I don't give a damn, I was still getting my game of football and my weekend off. It doesn't need to be on a Sunday, I just want my game of football."

Paul Shiels is back hurling now exclusively with Dunloy after a long Antrim career, including missing the 2009 and 2016 campaigns for hip operations.

While the 29-year-old welcomes not being pulled from pillar to post between county and club anymore, he has mixed feelings about the success of the 'club-only' month.

"It is hard for me now that I am out of the county scene, but I don't know if it worked for either club or county," he states.

"We didn't have the county players really for that break. They were resting up after a hard league campaign with the county. They didn't really train with Dunloy, they played one or two matches but that was it.

"And then, with the county I am sure it has affected their preparations for the McDonagh Cup. It is a hard one. You can't blame them for trying something but I don't know if it was the right thing to do or not."

Despite their reservations, both men are satisfied that players should train with their county team during the month of April.

"It's not ideal for a county team to have a month without their players and they are expected to go back two weeks before the competition and gather up and get going again. From our point of view it doesn't work," says Shiels.

"The worry there is that the county players are the ones losing out there.

"The way it is at the minute, I don't think it benefits them either way. The club Championship is not until August so, realistically, we could do that. Whereas the county team, it is more of a hindrance to them."

Kernan is typically fortnight in noting, "I am not against team training camps and preparation. I would love to be still playing county football and doing all of that.

"I had all of that in my first start at county football, so I appreciate how good that is and the perks of it, but if you are going on a training camp, you know that month in advance.

"Surely county managers could sit down with the county board and work the fixtures around that. Entire counties are not playing football because their county team is away somewhere - that shouldn't happen."

The nub of the problem rests with the autonomy that county boards have for arranging their fixtures. While April was - a couple of postponed games notwithstanding - cleared for club action, a world of problems opens up for counties seeking to stage games across two codes.

There was an initial hope that April would host a number of club Championship games, but that comes with the obvious pitfall of mass exodus to America for players knocked out early in the summer.

The way forward lies in a review of how April went, conducted by the GAA, and then a solution found.

In the meantime, Kernan revealed that a sit down meeting between the GAA and the executive of the Club Player's Association is imminent.

"That's on the cards, that will happen in the next couple of weeks. The new men have only got into their role so there will be a meeting between Tom (Ryan, new Director-General) and John (Horan, new GAA President) and the CPA executive in the coming weeks where we will see. What happens in April will be high on the agenda.

"And we have to see their plans, what they are prepared to do from what went before them. Every new President and Director-General will have an idea of what they want to do or how they see the Association after their time in charge. That will be discussed."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph