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Dublin: 5 °C Sunday 29 March, 2020

5 talking points from GAA's latest update on 2020 fixtures

Here’s what you need to know after the GAA’s announcement.

Kerry’s Tommy Walsh and Philip McMahon of Dublin during the 2019 All-Ireland final.
Kerry’s Tommy Walsh and Philip McMahon of Dublin during the 2019 All-Ireland final.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

1. No new dates…yet

THE GAA REMAIN hopeful of completing the All-Ireland hurling and football championships by their scheduled final dates of 16 and 30 August respectively.

But unless teams are given the green light to resume collective training by the last week in May, giving them a couple of weeks preparation ahead of a mid-June return to action, the Association have accepted that both competitions will require major structural changes. 

The Connacht SFC quarter-finals involving Galway-New York and London-Roscommon have already been postponed. The inclusion of New York and London in the All-Ireland remains up in the air with both the US and UK likely to impose travel restrictions for some time to come.

The GAA’s suspension of activities is set to last until 19 April. If that is extended into June and beyond, then the GAA are facing two possibilities – extend the All-Ireland championships into September/October or drastically reduce the number of games required to complete both competitions.

The All-Ireland U20 and minor championships are more straightforward. The U20 football competition has already been whittled down to four teams, while the hurling is straight knock-out. The minor competitions could likewise return to a knock-out format.

a-view-of-the-offaly-gaa-centre-of-excellence-faithful-fields-closed-as-the-coronavirus-brings-a-stop-to-all-irish-sport-until-at-least-march-29th A view of the Offaly GAA Centre of Excellence, Faithful Fields, closed. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

 2. Will the leagues be completed? 

The Allianz Football and Hurling Leagues haven’t been abandoned yet though that scenario is looking more likely by the day.

In the event the leagues are scrapped, the likes of Meath (already relegated from Division 1) and Fermanagh (bottom of Division 2) would stand to benefit most. Cork (top of Division 3) would be among the losers. 

But until the GAA come out and say the secondary competitions are beyond rescue, they retain hopes of completing the final two rounds at some point. 

Joe Canning mentioned this week that county players would like three weeks to prepare for championship games when the ban is eventually lifted. Challenge games will be difficult to arrange, so using league games as a warm-up over two weekends ahead of a condensed knock-out championship could work. 

3. A return to knock-out championship on the cards

Speaking earlier today, Fergal McGill suggested that hurling will see a return to a “straight knockout provincial championship”. In that case, an open draw in both Munster and Leinster would be a likely solution.

That would lead to debates over venues. Would old rotas apply for home and away fixtures or would the GAA opt for a coin toss or use neutral grounds instead?  

The All-Ireland SHC could be run off in six weeks and allow for beaten provincial finalists to remain in the competition. Three weekends would be required for the provincial campaigns, another one for All-Ireland semi-finals and a week off before the decider. 

In a similar manner, football would require eight weekends to complete the provincials, All-Ireland quarter-finals, semi-finals and final (with a week break beforehand).

The Tailteann Cup could still come into play for Division 3 and 4 teams that don’t reach provincial finals, but it would require the leagues to be completed beforehand.

a-view-of-the-tv-gantry A view of a TV gantry in Killarney. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

4. Impact on TV deals

As an amateur organisation, the GAA don’t have to concern themselves with player and staff contracts over the coming weeks. But TV companies have signed contracts with the GAA that gives them rights to televise a fixed number of championship games in 2020.

If the Super 8s are scrapped it would mean far more provincial football games are televised, while hurling returning to knock-out format would require every prize-fight in the Munster and Leinster to be aired. 

Would games have to be spread out over weekends to ensure Sky Sports and RTÉ can broadcast enough games to honour the current deal? In that case, Friday night and Saturday afternoon fixtures could become a regular occurrence, plus staggered matches across a Sunday.

ronan-steede-with-aaron-morgan Action during the recent All-Ireland club football final. Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

5. Club scenarios

The GAA are conscious of wrapping up the inter-county championships in time to allow clubs completely their competitions.

County boards across the country have already lost April for club fixtures due to the suspension of activities. County leagues could be scrapped or at the very least significantly condensed.

A delayed start to the inter-county championships could mean club championships don’t start getting underway until September. Many counties – particularly dual ones – are facing a return to knock-out structures.

The provincial and All-Ireland club competitions present obvious problems too. The most likely scenarios are either scrapping them entirely for 2020/21 or returning the All-Ireland club finals to their old slot on St Patrick’s Day to extend the club season.  

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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