Richie McCormack
Richie McCormack

21.24 9 Dec 2020


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Dublin GAA Secretary John Costello has backed a split-season proposal, but says straight knock-out championships should remain a 2020 preserve.

He's released his annual report ahead of the Dublin GAA Convention, which takes place on December 16.

In it, Costello has thrown his weight and that of Dublin behind the proposed split-season concept which will land in Congress' lap early next year.

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Earlier this year, the GAA's Director of Player, Club, and Games Administration, Feargal McGill said he was happy with the harmony that would be brought about by a split season.

It's also been backed by the Gaelic Players' Association (GPA) and the Club Players' Association (CPA).

In his report, Costello writes, "The GAA’s decision to split the season and also flip the season – putting club championships before an inter-county resumption – goes to underline the old adage that “in the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity.”

He adds, "Running off our county championships in summer and early autumn was a godsend for the club game.

"Players got to play in optimum conditions. Club managers were afforded uninterrupted access to their inter-county footballers and hurlers."

However, Costello says it's of the utmost importance that the inter-county season be completed before club can commence.

"As normality gradually returns," he writes, "It 15 should become increasingly apparent that club-before-county is a quick-fix scenario likely to create multiple problems.

First and foremost a fixture-scheduling headache, with county finals requiring very early completion to run off provincial and All-Ireland club championships – before the county season!

"Non-championship club competitions would inevitably suffer too.

"Then consider the potential for inter-county players to feel simultaneously beholden to their club and county management teams.

"Will county managers across the country be content to sit back and let the club season play out before getting their squads together? How quickly before the inevitable tug-of-war ensues?

"There won’t be a pandemic every year – we hope! Going forward, it makes far more sense to run off all county activity first in a condensed window – finishing, let’s say, in mid-July – before the focus switches to our club championships.

"Let’s not forget, club league fixtures can still go ahead in spring and early summer, offering regular match exposure for the playing majority.

"And when it comes to the club championships, still starting in summer, there will be a longer window in more benign conditions.

"The fundamental lesson from 2020 should not be lost: splitting the season works and, as part of the GAA’s Fixture Calendar Review Taskforce, I will be advocating this position ahead of Congress in February."

Meanwhile, Costello says the romance brought about by this year's streamlined All Ireland Championships, should not precipitate a permanent regression to straight knockout competition.

He highlighted the wins of both Cavan in Ulster and Tipperary in Munster, but says their wins also highlight the issue of closing the back door permanently.

"Has there ever been a provincial final weekend to match 21st - 22nd November this year?," the Dublin Secretary posits,

"In the immediate wake of that spectacular double-whammy, little wonder that many observers were rushing to bow at the altar of a straight knockout championship.

"This euphoric viewpoint wasn’t confined to Premier partisans or Breffni die-hards either. The theory seemed to be that, if there had been a back door, this would never have happened.

"But instant judgements clouded by emotion aren’t always the most reliable of guides. While you can only salute the ravenous intent of both Tipp and Cavan, who is to say they would not have produced something similar in Munster/Ulster finals if a qualifier safety net had still been in place?

"After all, winning their province – not back door progression - was the holy grail that drove them on in the first place.

"You could argue that this most unusual year – be it all the disruptions, the weather conditions and softer pitches or earlier shocks in the championship – facilitated their achievements more so than the format itself. Even if that format was a direct by-product of Covid.

"And besides, in the cold light of a winter’s day, let’s not forget the reason for introducing the qualifiers in the first place, all of two decades ago.

"Inter-county players, especially those from the weaker counties, were frustrated to the point of despair at being asked to train so hard for months on end when the only guarantee was one championship match at the end of all their toil.

"In such unique circumstances, a straight knockout football championship was the best and probably only solution in 2020. It is not, however, the long-term answer."

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