All-Ireland club competitions scrapped, hurling's backdoor and why players won't be tested

We take a closer look at some areas of interest after the GAA announced its revised 2020 championship fixtures plan.

Corofin won't have to defend their All-Ireland title in 2021.
Corofin won't have to defend their All-Ireland title in 2021.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

THE LANDSCAPE OF the 2020 inter-county football and hurling championships became a little bit clearer yesterday as the GAA launched its new fixtures template.

Many county boards were holding off on releasing their own club fixtures schedules until Croke Park issued a revised roadmap for inter-county competitions. 

Inter-county training resumes on Monday, 14 September, giving football sides over five weeks of preparation before the Allianz Football League recommences for the final two rounds from mid-October.

There will be no top-level league action in hurling, but the Munster and Leinster quarter-finals take place on the weekend of 24-25 October – leaving counties with an almost seven week run-in to their first competitive games.

From the following weekend, there will be an abundance of inter-county action. The provincial championships in both codes will be run off week-on-week, leading to the Munster and Leinster hurling deciders on the weekend of 14-15 November.

The Connacht football final will also take place that weekend, while the other three provincial football championship deciders will be played the following weekend (21-22 November).

All-Ireland hurling semi-finals will take place on the last weekend in November (28-29) and football semi-finals on 5-6 December. The hurling (plus McDonagh Cup) and football deciders will take place on the second and third weekend of the month respectively.

There are several areas of interest following yesterday’s announcement.

Back door in hurling but not football

A qualifier system is returning to the hurling championship while football will be played on a straight knock-out basis.

Given the time constraints involved and the GPA’s wish to conclude competitions in a calendar year, it wasn’t feasible to give football sides a second chance. It gives added importance to several heavyweight opening round provincial ties.

The standout fixture? Undoubtedly the Ulster quarter-final tie between Donegal and Tyrone. The Cork v Kerry Munster semi-final also has the potential to be a humdinger. 

michael-murphy-wins-a-high-ball Michael Murphy wins a high ball against Tyrone in the 2019 championship. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Explaining hurling’s backdoor system, the GAA’s director of players, games and administration Feargal McGill said: “The three teams in each province that don’t make their provincial final will be placed in a draw, six teams, with two fixtures drawn, two Leinster teams against two Munster teams and one from each given a bye to round two.

“Then round two is those two teams against the winners of the first matches.” 

The All-Ireland quarter-finals (21-22 November) will see the beaten provincial finalists drawn against the two sides who emerge from the qualifiers. The winners will play the provincial winners a week later in the All-Ireland semi-finals.

The old rota system will return for the football semi-finals with Munster v Connacht and Ulster v Leinster. A Kerry v Dublin All-Ireland final the Saturday night before Christmas would be pretty special.

All-Ireland club championships scrapped

Corofin and Ballyhale Shamrocks will remain the holders of the club All-Irelands for another year. No provincial or All-Ireland championships are set to take place. When asked if the GAA might decide to run them off in 2021, McGill highlighted the importance of having a rest period for players.

“I can’t see it happening,” he said. “We have to build in a rest period for people as well, we also have third level competitions that have an impact on that. Something has to give. The most important thing is to get a good club window in 2020.

“We could have crammed the club window for county boards if we wanted and open the window, if you like, for provincial and All-Ireland club championships but we have 1,700 clubs that need to be active.

“There’s only 32 clubs that win a county title. It ultimately came down to giving the time to the many as opposed to the few. That’s just a hard decision that we have to make, not one we’re thrilled about but a hard decision we just had to make.”

President John Horan added: “There would also be a big time lag between the finish of the county finals and recommencing in January and would that be a major expense then on clubs in terms of training through that period so that was also a factor, in fairness, to take pressure off clubs.”

No Friday night lights 

Friday evening games were not considered for inter-county action.

“For the very simple reason that we remain a volunteer association,” said McGill. “If you have a game at 8pm on a Friday, you are talking about teams getting together at 1pm. That’s a half day off work for those that have to work.

“It’s also, everyone just thinks that you turn up in Croke Park and the venues and run out onto the pitch and it all happens.

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a-general-view-of-croke-park Croke Park under lights. Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

“For our volunteer stewards all around the country, they have got to be in place three or four hours beforehand and you would be depending on them getting off work.

“The practicalities are just not on. It’s nice to look at rugby and soccer and think it’s great that they can play on any day. It’s not practical in an amateur association.”

There will however be games spread across Saturdays and Sundays with “unfamiliar” throw-in times.

No Covid-19 testing for county players

“We’re not going down the route of testing,” said McGill. “We’re not a professional sport.

“Professional sportspeople live and move in their own groups, their own pods, if you like; we don’t. Our people mingle in the community generally so testing is just not a route we’ll be going down.”

New York absent but London included

The Connacht SFC will feature London and not New York due to the practicalities involved.

“I spoke to the chairwoman of New York in relation to this and she accepted the basis on which the decision was being made,” said Horan.

“Just [due to] the travel restrictions and risk, all the practicalities of it. I think you can see that while New York has improved over a lot of places in America it is still a serious situation. But there is no problem with New York accepting it.”

Televised games schedule  

The GAA plan on sitting down with broadcasters “in the next few weeks” to iron out the plans for TV coverage. 

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Kevin O'Brien

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