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Club football’s lost summer

Club football’s lost summer

Edwin McGreal

Two club managers feel something needs to be done urgently for club footballers.

A RUN to the All-Ireland Final will always bring about certain fixture headaches on the local club scene but this year in Mayo the problem seems to be pandemic.
The championship is slightly behind with play-offs and quarter-finals yet to be played but it is with the County Senior Leagues that the real problems have arisen.
The situation is particularly troublesome in Divisions 1 and 2 where the majority of teams have only played three or four of their eleven games which will leave a serious fixtures backlog when combined with the latter stages of the championship.
The County Board admit there is a problem and with that in mind they have formed a Games Review Committee, a group which could oversee a possible overhaul of the current league and/or championship format.
The committee was formed in late July, headed up by County Board Development Officer Eamonn Clarke of Knockmore with members to include inter-county referee Vincent Neary, Declan Ronaldson (Shrule/Glencorrib manager), Paddy McNicholas (Vice-Chairman County Board), George Golden (Westport manager) and Charlestown midfielder David Tiernan.Tommy Lyons
The committee was due to meet for the first time on Monday and their task is an onerous one. There is no easy solution of course but there would appear to be consensus that club footballers are not getting enough games in the height of the summer due to the success of the inter-county team.
Ballina manager Tommy Lyons feels the situation is certainly one which cannot be allowed to continue.
“We’ve had a fine summer and lads haven’t been getting football, it’s not good enough,” he told The Mayo News. “I think we have to accept that Mayo will be involved in the championship until at least August; consequently we have to accept that club football has to be played without county players.”
This year there have been no starred league rounds, ie league games where clubs must play without county players. The format was used in the past to allow league games to be played despite impending Mayo matches. However, it was felt that certain clubs with strong Mayo representations like Crossmolina, Ballina and Shrule/Glencorrib were being unfairly punished by starred games.
Lyons feels that giving club footballers games in high summer must take priority though. “We have six players involved in the county squad so we would be most affected by not having players available. But I think that it’s so important to be playing club football in the middle of the summer. I think you have to have starred rounds.
“Take this year as an example. If we had five starred rounds and had played them over the last two months we would have football right through the summer, we would have nine rounds played at this stage and have only two rounds left to play when Mayo are finished compared to the seven we will now have.”
The man who led the Stephenites to the 2005 All-Ireland club title also feels that since the championship itself became the sole determinant of your status, the league should not be given the same priority.
“The league is competitive in name only,” he offers. “It no longer determines your status. I think that having two teams going down and the third bottom going into a play-off makes it more competitive than it should be and therefore means teams want their strongest teams all the time.
“If only one team went down and one team up, you would have less of a priority attached and if a team came bottom they could have no complaints about going down. At the minute they could.”
Paul Jordan is manager of Castlebar Mitchels who have eight league games yet to play. If you factor in the senior championship where Mitchels are due to play Crossmolina in the quarter-finals, you can understand his position.
“It’s getting harder and harder to get managers to give the commitment,” Jordan explained. “Why get involved in something so disorganised? I ask myself will I go again and you’d have to doubt it.”
New ideas and suggestions are being sought by the Games Review Committee and Jordan feels it is time the Mayo GAA Board thought outside the box.
“In Mayo the mentality is to try old things like starred rounds and play-offs. Why not bring in new things like a round of league games on a Friday night? That way the county manager would have the whole weekend with the county team. Midweek games need to be looked at too.
“Another problem in Mayo is it is far too easy to get matches called off. I mean games off for a stag party is just a joke. It’s very hard to organise plans at the minute. Lads have holidays, exams, a love life, weddings but you cannot give them an honest answer about when they can go (without missing games) because you simply don’t know. It’s very difficult for me and the players and the enjoyment goes out of it.”
Mitchels felt the pinch this year with losing players to soccer and also to America for the summer. Jordan understands their rationale.
“A league with eleven games could take as much as six to seven months to finish, that is much too long. It’s extremely hard to keep fellas interested during a spell with no games. Football is about playing games week in, week out.
“In soccer in Mayo you have games every week. If you are given proper advance notice about midweek games, it should be pretty easy to get lads down. I think we should forget about starred games because it will be a disaster to certain clubs. But I don’t see why we can’t play midweek or Friday night games in the summer. From May to September is the time you should be playing all your football.”

Submissions and suggestions for the Mayo football task force should be sent asap to Sean Feeney, Vincent Neary or Eamonn Clarke.

TOMMY LYONS Ballina’s manager is frustrated at the lack of games. Pic: Sportsfile