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Club players get a raw deal

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TUG OF WAR Westport’s Alan Kennedy tangles with Ballina Stephenites’ David Tighe and David Clarke during last season’s Mayo SFC quarter-final which was played on October 23. Pic: Conor McKeown

The Way I See It
Ger Flanagan

BACK in 2019 the GAA club season began on March 30, 2019 with the first round of the Mayo Senior Leagues. It concluded on October 19, with the Round 11 of the same competition.
The structure back then saw some divisional cup games played earlier, most likely February, before clubs geared up for the first round of the championship in April.
The remainder of the summer was made up of mostly-starred league games until the second round of championship began and ran through, before a couple of league games needed to be concluded.
Quite frankly it was a ridiculous fixtures calendar, one that influenced and motivated the formation and actions of the Club Players Association. They formed in 2017, with a simple mandate of fixing the mess that was the fixtures.
They lobbied hard and at times thanklessly, until their proposal of a split-season model between club and county was agreed upon at the level.
There was change on the horizon.
A more practical, compact season for both codes was incoming.
Fast forward to the year 2022 and the Mayo GAA Draft Fixtures Calendar tells us the first club game is pencilled in for St Patrick’s Day, March 17  - the Divisional Cups - and the last match down for Halloween weekend in October.
Without stating the obvious, but where exactly is this change or split-season that was voted in?
Is there going to be anyone at official level that is going to question the fact that there is actually no real change at all? That the status quo has remained?
In my view it’s blatant disregard for adopting change. Another GAA rule that has been introduced with the best intentions but is just ignored in implementation, without anyone being held to account.
I do realise that I sound like a broken record on this issue at this stage (especially to regular readers of the column), but it’s actually quite insulting in the manner in which it has unfolded, with scant regard for club players’ opinions and concerns.
It’s the mushroom treatment from GAA administration to club players: ‘keep us in the dark and. . you know the rest yourself.
I raised the issue personally with both Con Moynihan and Seamus Touhy before Christmas as the two candidates for the chair of Mayo GAA canvassed the clubs
Not to mention how often I wax lyrical in these pages.
But my opinions and feedback have obviously fallen on deaf ears.
What’s most worrying is that there seems to be such a poor attempt to actually integrate a proper split-season model.
The big obstacle in the way of that format is the number of games and competitions in the Mayo club calendar. There are four competitions in total: Divisional Cups, the Michael Walsh Leagues, the Senior Leagues and the championships.
The most glaringly obvious solution to this writer is to remove at least one of those variables. The least important one to — and least meaningful for — the players.
They are, after all, the most important piece of the whole equation. Without them, the wheel stops turning. The only hint of change is to the leagues structure.
And while it is welcomed, it still doesn’t address the elephant in the room.
Again, it’s a hobby-horse of mine but I believe that the Divisional Cups need to be scrapped in order to see any change for club players.
Unfortunately they serve no purpose other than sentiment in 2022. Why not recycle the trophies for use in underage competitions so to not lose the history and tradition behind them?
But continuing to try and squeeze these competitions into the club calendar shows that there is very little willingness to actually employ the change the game needs.
This type of mentality is what holds progress back. The fear of change.
The future I see is that clubs and players lose interest completely, and withdraw from the competition or concede games because players don’t make themselves available.
If that’s the reality, it’s not much of a competition then.
No doubt I’ll be looking forward to getting out on the field when St Patrick’s Day does roll around. But that’s not the point or the issue here. It’s the sheer unwillingness of the people who draw up the fixtures calendar to try and improve a broken system.
That’s worrying, to say the least.
Right now it looks like the history books will show that the landmark year of 2022 was a year when the first ever GAA split-season was not actually a split-season at all.

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