OPINION: Split season too titled in favour of inter-county

November 10th, 2021 11:27 AM

By Tom Lyons

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THE biggest challenge facing the GAA during the next few years is not the composition of the All-Ireland football championship, it’s the new split season.

Because of Covid, the split season has been in trial mode both last season and this season.

In 2020 the club games were played first, followed by inter-county in late autumn and winter. However, because of lockdowns and no supporters in attendance, it is impossible to say whether that first split season was a success. Or not.

Then in 2021 it was reversed so that the inter-county was finished before the club championships began in August.  We are still in the throes of those club championships, with full attendances now permitted, so judgement will have to be with-held as to its real success. However, what we can say from an organisational perspective, is that the split season has thrown up problems that are almost insurmountable as regards club championships.

If Proposal B regarding the All-Ireland football championship had been passed at the recent GAA Special Congress, even with all its flaws, it would have given us a defined inter-county season, from February to mid-July. That might have given county boards, and divisional boards, the minimum 12 weeks they wanted – still paltry, I had to add – before the inter-county club championships kicked in in late October.

Now there will be a split season in 2022, that has already been decided at congress, but what split? By reverting to the national leagues and then the provincial championships, followed by the qualifiers and the All-Ireland series, how long an inter-county season are we looking at? There is every possibility that the club championships won’t be able to begin before August, which will limit them to far less than the 12 weeks.

Bad weather and unplayable pitches as we have witnessed during the past couple of weeks, will see county boards, and, especially, divisional boards, struggling to finish championships within given deadlines. The victims will be the clubs, especially dual clubs, who may have to play three important games in the course of a week, as is happening this season. It will be worse with the split season in 2022. Are we serious about treating our club players in this cavalier fashion?

Under the old inter-county/club system, clubs saw little of their inter-county players but under the split season, they won’t see hide nor hair of them from February until the county is knocked out of the All-Ireland championship.

This season, 2021, was one of the shortest and tightest we have ever witnessed on the club scene. Covid lockdown was blamed for that but is there any guarantee that the 2022 club season will be any longer? This season, Randal Óg, a small dual club with a very limited panel, had to play 18 weeks in a row, football and hurling, to fulfil its chaotic programme of games, including a backlog from the truncated 2020 season. It mightn’t be as bad in 2022 but it won’t be far off it.

Remember that divisional and county boards under the new split season will be forced to run off their club championships in about ten weeks because one team in each grade is required by the Munster Council to play in its championships. Under the new split season, will, and should, there be room for these Munster and All-Ireland club championships or should they be abolished for the sake of the vast majority of clubs?

The issue of the All-Ireland inter-county championships cannot be divorced from the club championships as has happened recently in all the debate about the two proposals. Whatever system is eventually adopted for the All-Ireland series must be tied in to a realistic split system that will put inter-county and club on an equal footing. What is happening now is alarmingly tilted in favour of the inter-county scene and it is only a matter of time before our ordinary club players will walk away from the GAA in pursuit of a lifestyle that has at least some modicum of fairness about it.

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