The G.A.A. is set to experience its biggest headache in its 136 year history after it was forced to suspend all playing and training activities until March 29 at the earliest due to the Coronavirus.
For the G.A.A. to face periods where no games are played is not a new thing. In the past we have seen games called off because of bad weather, something that is often only a slight hitch in the G.A.A.’s plans, while in the spring of 2001 we saw another mass shut down because of Foot and Mouth, a ban that lasted longer that the present purposed one.
But this present ban will have bigger ramifications for the G.A.A. locally and nationally than what we saw happen in 2001.
Going into the weekend’s fixtures before the shut down, G.A.A. chiefs in Croke Park had two rounds of the National Football League to play, and while they were a little closer to completing the National Hurling League, they were already playing catch-up because games in the group stages were called off due to bad weather over two weekends.
Three years ago the G.A.A. changed its senior hurling championship structure.
Delegates voted to abolish for a three year period (at a minimum) the traditional knockout Munster and Leinster Hurling Championships. Instead ten sides would compete in the two provincial championships split into two groups with three sides from each group advancing to the All-Ireland series.
To get this through it was announced that the month of April would be void of any inter-county activity, something we all know most do not adhere to and instead counties would be encouraged to play some of their club championship fixtures in this period.
The Waterford County Board, to their credit, fixed two rounds of the senior hurling and football championship in this period, even if it did not always happen because of circumstances outside of their control.
With the Munster Championships in both hurling and football scheduled to begin in May, it is hard to find a gap in the diary where the remaining league games are pencilled in for.
County boards up and down the country will be playing their club championships to a finish, when their county team exits the senior hurling and football championships.
After the club championships in each county, attention turns to the Munster Club Championships where the county champions in senior, intermediate and junior hurling and football pit their wits against the best from other counties.
Waterford will have to have their junior champions in both codes as well as its intermediate football champions in place for the weekend of October 31/November 1 with its intermediate hurling and senior hurling and football champions entering the competitions over the following weeks, competitions that will run till the end of November.
This means that the National Leagues this year might not be completed until December, which would in turn create its own problems as county sides may well find it hard to get venues to train and play on as many are closed at this time of the year to allow to rest after a busy year of use by club, schools and inter county sides,
Holding back games in the National Leagues or even if the G.A.A. were to declare this year’s competitions null and void it would have ramifications on this year’s All-Ireland Football Championships, as last year delegates to a Special Congress in Cork voted to introduce a second tier football championship for the so called weaker counties.
The Tailteann Cup would be played for by the eight sides that competed in the fourth division in the National League as well as the six sides who are not promoted from Division three and the two teams relegated from Division Two, provided that none of these teams were to reach a provincial final whereby they would play for the Sam Maguire Cup.
Should G.A.A. Officials in Croke Park declare this year’s league null and void or move the end of it to the end of the year it could not mean that the Tailteann Cup could not be played tunless an emergency Special Convention was called and a new format was agreed as to who would play in it.
As things stood going into the last weekend’s postponed round of games in Division Two of the National League it was mathematically possible that all eight teams could either win the league or be relegated.
In Division three table toppers Cork could miss out on one of the two promotion spots while Derry, Offaly, Tipperary and Leitrim could be in with a should of promotion but would need a string of fixtures to go their way if this was to happen.
Should the G.A.A. get the go ahead with the playing of games from March 29 (and there is no guarantee they will) it is possible to catch up by playing fixtures in the middle of the weeks but you have to wonder what sort of interest such games would generate from supporters and even from players who would be working or studying on the day of a match and again the following day, and might not fancy a trip to an away game they might have gone to on a Sunday, especially if the game involved some distant travelling.
Thankfully for supporters of Ladies Football and Camogie even if it is a few weeks before activities start up again things will not be as complicated.
Waterford has just one game to play in Division 1A of the league as do three of the other sides in the group while table toppers Cork have two games to play.
And with no semi-finals to be played in this year’s league the Association Fixture planners would have some time to complete the competition before the All-Ireland Championship begins on June 13.
In Ladies Football there are two rounds of games to play in Division One before the top four teams play each other in the semi-finals.
The Munster Championship begins on the weekend of May 23/24 when Waterford play Kerry while the All-Ireland Championship begins on July 4.
These are interesting times, not just when it comes to G.A.A. activities. Right now those tasked with scheduling events suffering major headaches as they do not know when they can fix events again and to find some new dates in what are often full diaries.
One thing is for sure, you have to respect the work those tasked with such responsibilities do, even if at times you may not always agree with the calls they make.