Next year’s radical GAA fixtures shake up is fraught with danger

Castlegar’s Michael Connor, Eamon Flynn, Cathal Wall, Alan Duggan and Matthew Kilgannon celebrate with the Fr. Griffin Cup after defeating Athenry in the County Minor A hurling final at Kenny Park last Sunday. Photo: Enda Noone.
Castlegar’s Michael Connor, Eamon Flynn, Cathal Wall, Alan Duggan and Matthew Kilgannon celebrate with the Fr. Griffin Cup after defeating Athenry in the County Minor A hurling final at Kenny Park last Sunday. Photo: Enda Noone.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

THE GAA fixtures landscape – at both club and county level – will undergo such a radical overhaul in 2018 that it’s virtually certain there will be some fallout and controversy along the way. Strong dual counties could be caught in the eye of the storm and Galway are one of those.

It’s not just the revamped fixtures timetables that administrators, mentors, players and supporters will have to grapple with, for there is no longer an U21 football championship – it’s being replaced by an U20 competition – while the inter-county ‘minor’ championships will be restricted to U17 players.

At the heart of these changes is a genuine attempt to give the club player a better deal, but such is the crowded programme for the first seven months of the year, it’s possible teams in next year’s Galway hurling championship will have played only two matches by the start of September. Sure, they will then have the prospect of four months of largely unhindered activity, but who wants to be slogging their guts out in late November or December?

Another potential difficulty for Galway is that their county U21 hurlers will be participating in the Leinster championship for the first time ever next year and that could result in three extra fixtures at the height of the summer as up to now the Tribesmen have only joined the All-Ireland title race at the semi-final stage. In football, Galway could also have their local fixtures hit if the county qualifies for the new Super Eight structure which involves two groups of four, comprising of home, away and neutral games to establish qualification for the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Furthermore, the Leinster and Munster hurling championships will also break new ground in 2018 as these provincial competitions will be decided on a round-robin basis. In Galway’s case, they will face four games, two of which will be at home, in order to qualify for the Leinster final and should the All-Ireland champions draw Kilkenny at Pearse Stadium, it would undoubtedly be a fantastic occasion.

But the new championship structures and fixtures timetables are fraught with danger. As a GAA traditionalist, I can’t get my head around the new reality that the All-Ireland champions in both hurling and Gaelic football will be crowned before the end of August. That leaves four months without a single inter-county match and the resulting vacuum is far too long.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.