Third-level GAA competitions are being squeezed so much that they may cease to exist in the years ahead, former Armagh footballer and coach Aidan O'Rourke has warned.
Following on from comments made by ex-Kerry footballer and UCC coach Tomás Ó Sé who questioned the reduction of time being set aside in 2020 for the Sigerson Cup, O'Rourke, a sports performance manager at Queen's University, feels the pressure on all third level competitions from the inter-county game could consume it altogether.
"I don't know how you could come to any other conclusion and to be straight, third level are extrapolating that conclusion themselves," he said.
The Sigerson Cup will be played on a knock-out basis through January with the final on the Wednesday after the opening round of the National league. Starting on January 11/12, it will wrap up just 18 days later.
O'Rourke is also concerned about the impact that moving the U-20 inter-county competition back to February/March will have on the Freshers competition.
He said it was hugely "frustrating" that no date had been confirmed for the Freshers competition, adding that the GAA was in danger of huge erosion of the footprint it has enjoyed across so many third level institutes.
"As someone who is operating across all sports now, universities have a pot of money to invest in third level sports and most institutions have priority sports for whatever reason, whether it's historical or demographics," he pointed out.
"In Queen's we have five priority sports. And in most institutes in Ireland, gaelic games would be one of those priorities. If you take the return for investment in the other sports, for example a rugby team playing in the AIL, 30-plus games from September to May, hockey playing in the All-Ireland hockey league, investment required there, rowers trying to get to the Olympics and then GAA playing in a tiny window with limited exposure now.
"There is going to be a question - why would we invest resources in GAA.
"The implications are bigger than just (the threat to) scholarships. They're part of the budget but a much bigger part of the budget is facilities, Belfield, DCU, UL, WIT, UCC, Queen's, it's goes on and on. The amount of county teams that use those facilities as a base. All of that could be gone if gaelic games goes from third level.
"It was just decreed that Sigerson, which had a back door for the first time in a long time and was successful, only adding 10 days to the length of the championship and giving fellas a guarantee of two games after Christmas, should be crammed into a window in January because it is an afterthought.
"That's understandable too but it is probably a symptom of the bigger picture which people are fed up in terms of an overall calendar," he said.
The decision to condense the Sigerson Cup time frame further was taken to avoid clashes with as many league games as possible and ease the burden on players eligible for both.
"The number of examples I could give you of lads who weren't allowed to play in competitive college games because they have to go to a meeting, a gym session," O'Rourke remarked, alluding to the crux of the issue.