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Are the fixtures really fixed at all?

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NO REST FOR THE WICKED Parke subs are pictured during a Mayo Intermediate club championship game back in 2019. Pic: Conor McKeown

The way I see it
Ger Flanagan

IT’S hard to believe that the FBD League is almost upon us again… especially given the fact that the Fixtures Task Force Calendar Review recommended that it be scrapped about a year ago.  
The move to remove the pre-season competitions from the fixtures calendar was seen as a progressive one by most GAA people as it was a step towards shortening the inter-county season and thus would allow the split-season model to flourish.
But Central Council performed a u-turn recently and has reintroduced the pre-season competitions for 2022. Apparently a number of counties expressed an interest in playing them as opposed to sporadic challenge games.  
The idea to cancel them was so that the county players could enjoy a longer down-time and avoid these needless competitions. It would make you wonder if that decision to re-introduce them was more driven by finance than football?
Given the time and effort spent working on that strategic fixtures plan before getting it over the line at Congress, it’s not encouraging that the ‘suits’ have, at the first given opportunity, returned to the status quo.
It’s not a major issue in terms of the potential impact it will have on the season, but it’s more the nonchalant manner in which it go reintroduced that would concern me.
The idea to scrap the pre-season competitions was made in the interests of creating a more long-term sustainable calendar. Yet, straight away that has seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Whether or not that attitude will spill over to the split-season that is planned for 2022 remains to be seen.
The talk in Mayo club football circles is that we will be returning to play Divisional Cups and/or Secondary Leagues in late March, with the club championships due to take place at the end of August and concluding in October.
If these Divisional Cup/Secondary Leagues games go ahead as planned next spring, it would likely see clubs return to training in February, meaning they are facing into a nine-month season.
I’d never claim to be a mathematician, but when you split 12 months in half, you don’t get nine. And nine months is way too long for a club season, basically contradicting the whole purpose of a split-season to allow both club and county players to enjoy their own time.
From where I stand, speaking as a club player, the reality is that Divisional Cups and the Secondary Leagues have to be scrapped in Mayo.
I understand and appreciate that they mean a lot to the families after which they are named, and also that the Divisional Boards still believe in them.
I believe if those Boards lose the divisional cups, they also lose a small bit more relevance in the grander scheme of things and that won’t sit well.

Players need to be heard
WE were fortunate to win a Divisional Cup last season, beating Louisburgh in the Kelly Cup final in Breaffy. It was really enjoyable to claim a piece of silverware and play competitive football too but, if it means extending the season more than is necessary, I believe club players need to have their views heard.
They mean you are starting your season earlier and then when you think you might have a weekend off in between league games, to try and get the bodies right, or even go away for a couple of days, a Secondary League match is planted right into that empty space at short notice.
If the proposed splitting of the club leagues takes place, we could be looking at up to seven Mayo Senior League games and a minimum of three championship games. You throw in a Divisional Cup competition and a Secondary League on top of that number, and it’s just too demanding on players and their bodies.
There were too many games last season and, in Balla, we as a team suffered terribly with injuries, right up to the beginning of the championship and all the way through.
There wasn’t ample time given to recover and get right.
I recall playing Louisburgh twice in Divisional Cup games last year and in each one of those games, they lost one of their best players to injury. One didn’t make it back for the season and the other barely did, which had a huge bearing on their championship chances.
And that’s just two examples of many that happened.
A simpler more structured solution might see the Mayo Senior Leagues starting around mid- June and running into July. Their conclusion could coincide with the end of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship at the end of that month, allowing inter-county players to return to their clubs for potential league semi-finals or finals, or the final rounds, depending on what format is chosen.
That will leave clubs with a couple of weeks recovery time before the start of championship and more importantly, a shorter season that resembles a split model.
It would mean clubs will not have to return to training in February, with an April/May return to the field more likely and practical.
Something has to give to streamline the club season and, unfortunately, the Secondary Leagues and/or Divisional Cups have to be looked at first and foremost.
With a new chairman, and potentially a new vice-chairman going to be elected to the Mayo County Board next weekend, no doubt the fixtures are close to the top of their agenda.
This presents a brilliant opportunity for the newly-elected officer to show their seriousness in tackling the issue once and for all.
How about inviting in a panel of clubs players from across the Junior, Intermediate and Senior Championship to hear their thoughts on how the fixtures calendar should be set out, before agreeing to a format that works for all parties for 2022?
That would be real action and a signal of real intent to address these long-running issues.

 

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