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County before club 'a no-brainer' for 2021 season as GAA unveil fixture plans
The GAA inter-county leagues are scheduled to start on the weekend of 27-28 February.

STARTING WITH COUNTY matches in the 2021 season before club fixtures was ‘a no-brainer’ according to GAA chiefs.

The GAA today officially unveiled their programme for next year after the plan was officially endorsed by Central Council on Friday.

The football and hurling leagues are pencilled in for a start date of the weekend of 27-28 February before the championship begins on 17-18 April with the All-Ireland senior hurling final on 11 July and the football equivalent a week later on 18 July.

Club action will then commence in July and Feargal McGill, the GAA’s director of club, player and games administration, has explained the reasoning behind the decision to go with county first.

“If you took a short-term view you would say there is no guarantee we will be able to play club games in the first quarter of the year. We aren’t allowed do them now.

“If we look at the longer term, if the GAA are going to bring in a split season and it will be on the agenda for Congress in February, I think the right decision is still to put the county game first.

“A couple of reasons for that, if you ran with the club game first you could end up playing county finals at the end of April, the early part of May because then you have to run the provincial and All-Ireland club championships.

“That would be very early for the flagship team in every club to be finished their activity, we don’t think that would have been a good approach. There would be less appetite for teams to play in leagues and non championship competitions once they are eliminated from the county championships.

“The third obvious thing is that if you ran with club first towards the end of the club season with the inter-county return to training would be eating into the time available for clubs. For all those reasons we think county first is a no brainer to be quite honest.”

fergal-mcgill Morgan Treacy / INPHO Feargal McGill, the GAA's Director of Player, Club and Games Administration. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

McGill stated the return of crowds is not within the GAA’s control but is hopeful supporters can attend games next year.

“Will depend on what NPHET and the Government allow us to have so we would love to give some positive news on that (but) we don’t have positive news on that. It will be just a case of wait and see, at some stage with vaccines we have to be a little bit optimistic that some supporters will get back in 2021.

“That also feeds into the question around county first and if we had looked at this purely from a financial point of view, would have run with club first in the hope that towards the end of next year, attendances would be back, that would have been short-sighted because it wouldn’t have been what would have been in the best interests of 450,000 club players.

“There was certainly a financial temptation there to run with club first from a financial perspective but it wouldn’t have been the best thing for 450,000 and that has to be our priority. The big thing we are happy about is to see the provincial and All Ireland club championships being back in there. We do think we have created a very good window for club competitions during summer. It is a better games programme than the one we had in 2020.”

The provincial GAA championship draws will take place in January and it will also be determined then which counties in the football league will have two home or two away games in the new regional four-team groups.

conor-sweeney-lifts-the-trophy-after-tipperary-are-munster-champions Conor Sweeney lifts the trophy after Tipperary are crowned Munster champions.

raymond-galligan-lifts-the-anglo-celt-cup-as-cavan-are-ulster-champions Morgan Treacy / INPHO Cavan captain Raymond Galligan celebrates their Ulster final success. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Some interesting features of the new Tailteann Cup football competition are that the 2020 provincial champions Cavan and Tipperary will be included in Sam Maguire qualifiers next year, even if they do not reach their provincial finals in 2021. Both are operating in Division 3 next year but have that safety net due to their brilliant successes in November.

The Tailteann Cup final will be held on the weekend of 26/27 June as a curtain-raiser to the All-Ireland hurling semi-final. The semi-finals will be played as a Croke Park double-header on Sunday 6 June.

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