“The opportunity is there to fundamentally change the fixtures calendar” – CPA Secretary Tommie Kenoy

By Darren Mulvey

With clubs up and down the country preparing for an accelerated return to play following last Saturday morning’s announcement by GAA headquarters, and ahead of what will be a truncated inter county season in the Autumn, CPA Secretary Tommie Kenoy believes there is a chance now to fully re-examine the GAA calendar to provide ‘inherent certainty’ for club players.

Following on from last Saturday’s acceleration of games from July 31st to July 17th, clubs now have an extra two weeks, and 13 weekends in total to play competitions prior to the inter county season resuming. ‘An extra two weeks is an extra two weeks, and that’s very valuable to the clubs, said Kenoy, who took over the secretary’s chair from Galway’s Micheál Higgins at the organisation’s recent AGM. “Then there’s the inevitable clash between club and county … there’s clearly going to be situations post September 14th where county championships won’t be completed, you’re going to have major controversy between county managers and clubs so there’s a lot of issues there that clubs have to deal with.”

The CPA are calling for “major restructuring of the national games program to allow the club and county game to coexist in an equitable manner, the question is can they rise to that challenge and put a new structure in place.”

“First of all, with the club being the primary unit of the GAA, club games have to be given a status that reflects and recognizes that, said Kenoy. But equally, “you have the inter county game which is the shop window for our games, a huge promotional aspect and that also has to be recognized in any new structure”

The most recent attempts made to address the fixtures issue came in the form of the Fixtures Review Task Force, who published their findings in December 2019. The CPA withdrew itself from the task force prior to publication of the findings, citing that they ‘would not be an accomplice to the entrenchment of the status quo’. Among those who sat on the committee were member of county, provincial and Croke Park committees, in addition to CPA and GPA representatives. Do the CPA feel there’s not enough good will on behalf of all involved to approach the fixtures issue in good faith?

“The fixtures review task force was a long way from what we wanted, said Kenoy. We wanted an independent chairperson for example, we wanted someone from outside the association with experience in games management, who would look at this and would bring back a suitable structure but unfortunately it didn’t happen. Ultimately we were very unhappy with the proposals that were presented”

Club players, or at least club players in counties where competitions won’t be straight knockout, are now about to get a taste of club championships during high summer. Although it has come about due that most unlikely and uncertain events, a global pandemic, 2020 may be the first time we see coverage of club finals on TG4 not played on a rain sodden pitch amidst a stiff breeze. Will the CPA, whose membership currently stands at about 25,000, increase that, and as such spread their gospel of change further throughout the country?  We’ve been four years advocating for this but there’s no commitment there to bring about a national games program so players have to stand up and say ‘were not going to take this anymore, the emphasis has to come from club players, theyre the ones being unfairly treated.

No better example of this can be found in recent times than of April, the so called ‘club month’ that has arguably created more problems than in solves, not least in Kenoy’s home province of Connacht, where the opening round of the Connacht Football championship sees counties travelling to New York and London, generally held in early May. “Those games always took place on the first weekend in May, the result was the counties travelling to play those games wouldn’t have had club games for the last two weeks in April. Then we had the situation of split championships, where for example here in Roscommon we had two rounds of the championship here in April, and the rest in August, a three month gap. Youre looking at the months of May, June, July and August where clubs have no meaningful games, and that simply isn’t good enough. That’s when clubs should be playing competitive football and hurling and it’s not happening at the moment. This often leads to clubs playing league or secondary cup competitions without their county players. However, as Kenoy notes ‘in the first place you are a club player, and playing for the county is a representative step,  not the other way around,’ echoing a statement from Laois player and new CPA executive member, Cahir Healy, proffering that county players should not be ‘strangers in their own clubs’.

With collective inter county training set to resume from September 14th, there is some potential for overlap with county players who may be involved at the business end of the championship with their clubs. However yesterday, the GPA expressed their desire for any Inter County training sessions held before September 14th to be covered by the Player Injury Scheme. County managers and county panels will no doubt be eager to return to training as soon as possible and that’s something Kenoy feels the GAA should take decisive measures to mitigate against.

“Coiste Bainistí are in full control of the fixtures, they were given that power back at a Special Congress in April, they should have amended rule 6.45. There are penalties there for collective inter county panels who train outside of certain windows. They should amend rule 6.45 and bring in penalties for teams and managers who don’t adhere to collective training until September 14th. That should be done to protect clubs. September 14th gives counties a full month. They should insist that that date is adhered to, otherwise it will be the usual club v county conflict.”

As the GAA grassroots lead the return to play, the CPA is seeking to keep the fixtures issue firmly on the agenda, in an effort to drive change. According to Kenoy, a blank slate approach is the way forward. “It’s the only way to do it, start again with a blank slate, restructure top to bottom so that it recognises club and county in a structure that allows them to coexist”. On current evidence, it’s unlikely that the will is there amongst the necessary arms of the organisation to even countenance this. As the remainder of the 2020 season unfolds, it will give everyone involved food for thought as to whether the opportunity now exists to fundamentally change the competition structures and fixtures to rectify the current imbalance, something the CPA are in no doubt about.

“Of course there is,” finished Tommie. “We have a fixtures crisis, that’s the reality. The opportunity is there, absolutely, but the question remains, will the GAA grab that opportunity?”

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