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Date: Wednesday 5th May 2010

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The Covid-19 crisis may have given the GAA a fixtures blueprint for future seasons

Oisin McConville


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ALL CHANGE: The battle for Sam Maguire could soon be contested in November every year

ALL CHANGE: The battle for Sam Maguire could soon be contested in November every year

©INPHO/James Crombie

ALL CHANGE: The battle for Sam Maguire could soon be contested in November every year

The phrase 'new normal' has become such a part of our vocabulary that it now slips from our lips as readily as 'please' and 'thank you'.

Over the course of the past three month, the changes which have taken place in society, embracing sectors such as health, education, business, shopping, culture and entertainment, can only be described as radical.

Unsurprisingly, sport has been turned on its head by the coronavirus pandemic.

For the GAA, 2020 is proving to be a year of change, upheaval, controversy and uncertainty - and bear in mind we are only halfway through it.

Yet I believe that we may have inadvertently stumbled upon what could prove to be a new annual fixtures formula.

At this point in time, club matches are expected to resume on July 31. It is anticipated that competitions in all counties will be completed by the end of September, paving the way for the return of inter-county championship action on October 17.

This, of course, all depends upon the level of threat from the coronavirus - if any.

But having studied the fixtures roadmap for the remainder of this year, as outlined by the GAA's Management Committee in tandem with the Special Advisory Covid-19 Group, I feel that, with further tweaking, their fixtures formula could potentially become a template for the future.

GAA President John Horan and Director-General Tom Ryan have been to the fore in trying to take things forward in difficult circumstances, and I believe that one of the biggest headaches they must face down is helping to formulate a coherent fixtures programme.

While I have already described some of the changes which society has experienced as being radical, I must invoke this word again in outlining what I believe could prove a viable fixtures concept.

I believe that the GAA should commence club competitions in February and stage the league and championships in this sector until the end of May, before launching the Allianz football and hurling championships in early June, prior to the All-Ireland Championships, the finals of which I think could be played in November.

This may be viewed by many as a seismic change and will no doubt be described as unworkable, yet I feel it merits consideration.

I am aware that, as things stand, April is already a designated club-only month, but with the provincial championships commencing in May, do you think that county team managers are just waiting patiently to get all their players back on board so that they can have a bit of a run-out in the first week before entering championship action? I don't think so.

In normal circumstances, the Ulster championship would be at the semi-final stage, the identities of the last four teams having been confirmed after action spanning three weekends.

I see no reason why this could not be transferred to the autumn in the future, in tandem with the other provincial championships.

An All-Ireland final in late November/early December may be anathema to some, but I believe it is workable. Irrespective of the weather, Croke Park will generally always be playable.

It must be taken on board that the All-Ireland Super 8s and the still-to-be-launched Tailteann Cup would have to be staged in 2021. It will be interesting to see if these can be factored into the fixtures itinerary without causing undue difficulties.

Less could prove to be more, so I recommend a wait-and-see policy.

I think that college football can be played in the December-January period. Should this carry over into February, it would not prove an obstacle to the start of club action.

I know a number of county team bosses have their own views on college football, but it still makes a significant contribution to the GAA in terms of unearthing talent and nurturing the sport in the education sector.

Many who went on to attain fame at the highest level cut their teeth at college level. It's worth bearing this in mind in any assessment of higher education football.

Refs need to give skill players a licence to thrill

Referees often come in for criticism at every level of the GAA, and while some of this may be justified, a lot of the verbal brickbats amount to vile verbal abuse.

This is something which I feel detracts from the image of the GAA as a family-orientated sport that has the welfare of the community at heart, something that has never been more prevalent than over the course of recent months.

But while I will defend referees when it comes to undeserved insults, there is one element of the sport in which I feel they could exercise more authority.

This is offering more protection to key forwards who, I believe, are coming under increasing pressure, some of it decidedly unhealthy.

More often than not those players are double-marked and subjected to persistent buffeting during games.

They are forced to have the patience of a saint when it comes to keeping their cool.

Remember, these are the very players who put bums on seats, gifted performers who even opposition fans are prepared to pay good money to see in action.

With the obsession with the blanket defence abating and teams for the most part adopting a more positive, even gung-ho, approach, such players have been afforded the opportunity to highlight their skills in irrepressible fashion.

Yet there will always be those players who are prepared to adopt any measures they deem necessary to nullify the opposition.

Having come in for a bit of attention during my playing

career, I can empathise with the frustrations that players such as David Clifford (Kerry) and Conor McManus (Monaghan) endure.

When Tyrone played Kerry earlier this year in Edendork, Clifford was harshly dismissed and was agitated as he left the field of play, while McManus was the victim of the infamous last-gasp haul-down by Sean Cavanagh at Croke Park a few years ago.

Derry’s Shane McGuigan, Patrick McBrearty (Donegal) and Shane Walsh (Galway) are others who I believe could be afforded more protection from referees. Freed from the shackles of cynical marking, they have the ability to thrill fans.

Over recent years we have watched far too many dour games that did nothing for the reputation of our great sport.

For a change, let us bask in its style, grace and sheer class, please.

Belfast Telegraph