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Time to change up the season

Sport

Talking Tactics
Billy Joe Padden

WITH only weeks remaining to the start of the National Leagues, there has been plenty of discussion recently about the structure of this year’s inter-county season.
My main interest is in looking at this year’s 15-week inter-county season as a potential ‘dry run’ for 2022 and beyond, where you have a league-based, round-robin championship that goes straight into knock-out at the quarter-final stage.
Before we go any further, I’m not saying I have the definitive answer to the championship conundrum, but I am for ‘seeding’ teams and I am against a second-tier competition.
I think for the integrity of the competition, every team should be competing in it.
But we’re losing some of that integrity at the moment and we’ll lose even more if/when a second-tier competition like the Tailteann Cup starts. Because I think some counties will stop improving and it will set them back a long way. That’s a very dangerous precedent.
The GAA needs to find a system where all teams have a similar amount of games at a similar time of year so that they can develop and prepare for them properly.
That’s not the way it is at the moment.
My suggestion is that the GAA inter-county season would start on March 17 and be launched as a ‘Festival of Football and Hurling’.
Imagine St Patrick’s Day being the opening day of the GAA season? Major League baseball in America does something similar by making the first day of the new season into a big deal.
Why not make March 17 the highlight of the GAA calendar and have four or five big championship games on that weekend.
Then let each team have seven or eight matches before you go into the knock-out stages, that’s the way I would suggest structuring the GAA inter-county season from now on. Obviously, the finer details would need to be teased out, but you get my drift.
As a player, one of the most frustrating things was that you played your National League campaign, it finished around the first week in April, and then you might go six or seven weeks before the first round of the championship.
That was absolute torture because all you were doing was training hard with the fear of getting injured during that training block and missing the championship game!
It was a nightmare.
Trust me, players want to do the pre-season, get into the season itself, and play games every week or two. Big breaks in the middle of the season, where everyone is struggling to manage it from a fitness and sports science point of view, is not what anybody wants.
That’s why this season’s National League running straight into the championship is a good trial run for what I feel would be the best structure in the longer-term.
Yes, most of us would prefer if the GAA championship wasn’t knock-out this year, but the GAA is about more than just the elite inter-county teams.
County Boards need to be given time to run off their club championships.
I also believe the GAA didn’t want a scenario where the club season was starting first, considering the Covid-19 issues we had last year around County Final celebrations in some counties.
It’s always going to be easier to control the inter-county programme and you only have to look at how smoothly it all ran off last year.
I would love to see this season’s calendar as being the first step on the road to an even better competition next year.

Ranking players is just not for me

NEWS reached me over the weekend that Seán Cavanagh’s list of ‘Top 30 Gaelic footballers’ in a national newspaper had got a lot of people talking.
Paddy Durcan at number eight was the highest-rated Mayo player with Diarmuid O’Connor (11), Cillian O’Connor (14) and Oisin Mullin (25) also included.
I have to be honest, I’m not a fan of those sort of lists at all.
Mainly because, as teams have become more tactically sophisticated, what players are being asked to do within their own team’s system is very unique.
So it’s very difficult to compare, for example, what Paddy Durcan is being asked to do at right-half back for Mayo with what Peter Harte is being asked to do in a similar position for Tyrone.
Durcan is one of the best attacking half-backs in the country at the moment but also has the ability to go and defend ‘one-on-one’ at corner-back in an All-Ireland Final, half injured, and do really well on an exceptional footballer like Ciarán Kilkenny.
Can the other attacking half-backs in the country do that? No, they can’t.
Paddy Durcan is a more complete defender than many of his peers and that’s why he should rank higher than any other half-back in the country.
Obviously, the likes of James McCarthy is a fantastic footballer but he’s doing a different job for Dublin. And that’s why these lists of ‘best players’ are so hard to put together.
Cillian O’Connor, on last season alone, would be in my top five players in the country.
Look at the pressure he was under every day he went out; the Mayo team was set up for him to be the chief score-getter and the first line of defence in a team that likes to defend high up the field and create turnovers.
Other forwards aren’t asked to do that, he has to expend injury doing that where somebody like David Clifford [Seán Cavanagh’s number one] doesn’t have to do that as much. And you have to take these factors into account.
That’s why I hate these lists, you’re not comparing apples with apples!

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