Clan na Gael's Paul Crewe took part in a lengthy discussion on Louth GAA league proposals at Darver Centre of Excellence on Monday night. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
Taking last Monday night’s fixtures debate in isolation, it would be a major surprise if Louth GAA’s adult leagues are altered in any significant way.
Three proposals - double-rounded, single round or ‘round-and-a-half’ divisions, involving 16 games after a split - were at the crux of a long discussion, in which several club representatives and members of the executive contributed.
At present there are 11 regulation matches in Divisions One and Two, with one less in Division 3A and 14 in the bottom tier. If this were to continue to be the format, CCC chairman Seán McClean has said there will be two ‘starred matches’, where county players won’t be available.
If the leagues were to be expanded to 16 games - with a divide after round 11 - there could be as many as eight county star-less encounters, with 11 of 22 a possibility in the unlikely case of a double-rounded nomination.
Of course, the notion of ‘star matches’ has long been a contentious point within Louth GAA and there seemed to be annoyance from the floor when it was announced that county senior football manager Wayne Kierans has requested his players not be made available to their clubs three weeks before the championship opener, against Longford in May.
The GAA’s rulebook determines that no elite player should play domestically less than 10 days in advance of a provincial or All-Ireland clash, which leaves the CCC facing a decision over who to listen to. It was clear, however, that delegates felt the central body’s admission should be adhered to in this particular case.
On the league proposals, St. Mochta’s manager Seamus McGahon requested the one-rounded format remain, adding that “some clubs will be badly hurt from star matches, especially if there are more. Small clubs as much as bigger ones”. Mochta’s, of course, have three on the Louth senior panel, Ciarán Byrne, Declan Byrne and Gerry Garland.
Patsy Reid, whose club, Glyde Rangers, will be in a very competitive Division 3A, felt an increase in county player inavailability would penalise “clubs struggling for numbers” if “they’re lucky enough to have a player good enough to play for Louth”.
Tommy Brennan, Westerns, followed this with a passionate plea for the current model to remain, saying that the ‘league-and-a-half’ format would see his club have to play seven to eight of their 15 Division 3A matches minus “our best player”, Tommy Durnin. He said in years gone by they were almost made to pay for having “the only county player in junior football”.
Various delegates coined the possibility of there being, as is the case in Monaghan, more points offered for a win in rounds where county players are available, while David Rogers threw out the idea of taking away league relegation altogether. He did, though, question if the divisions would “still be as competitive” in such an event.
Clan na Gael’s Paul Crewe arose a pertinent point in relation to scheduling, something which McClean was agreeable to, asking that an overall fixture plan be released as quickly as possible, once a structure was settled upon. Liam Carthy, Roche Emmets, led calls for the latter.
Crewe added that Clans had lost players permanently due to “irregular fixtures”, suggesting that “soccer guarantees players a game every week”.
Aside from the general narrative, St. Fechins’ Eugene Judge asked why fixture planners were so keen to finish the season in early autumn, and before the climax of the club championship. He recalled prior years where Cardinal O’Donnell Cup deciders were played in October or November.
Francie McMullan, the county manager, said clubs had previously indicated their preference for the points competitions to be concluded when they currently are, while Mr McClean added that leaving club football outstanding after championship finals could be hindered by Leinster runs similar to those of Mattock Rangers and Dundalk Young Irelands in the past two years.
Judge, however, disagreed with this logic and was supported by Young Irelands’ Kieran Maguire, who, in a side argument, alluded to the poor health of playing pitches as a result of starting the campaign in February, adding that there was little football during the better months of the year, August and September.