The fall-out from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic continues to be felt right across society in Ireland and around the world. Needless to say, the GAA is affected in the same way as other sectors and, with Level 5 Covid restrictions now confirmed to remain in place until at least the early days of March, the start of the 2021 inter-county season is set to be pushed back as well.
RTÉ’s Damian Lawlor reported yesterday (here) that the GAA’s Management Committee decided at a virtual meeting this week that no collective training or matches would resume before 5th March, which is the earliest date on which the Level 5 restrictions might be lifted.
RTÉ also reported earlier in the week (here) that county squads are expected to be given four weeks to prepare for competitive action, which would mean a start to the Leagues in late March or early April. The GAA will review the situation after 5th March to see what the 2021 calendar might look like then.
The delay in starting in National League impacts on the Championship, the provincial draws for which haven’t even been held yet. Originally, the split season this year was meant to see the All-Ireland football final being played in mid-July but now it’s likely to be sometime in August before it’s held. That timing, of course, has a knock-on effect on when the club action can get going.
John Fogarty in the Irish Examiner had a handy piece the other day in which he sketched out four different scenarios for the inter-county year, depending on what resumes and when. You’ll find that here.
The Irish Examiner has also reported, by the way, that this year’s provincial Championship draws will “be broadcast by RTÉ over a number of days on the week of February 8.” I’m not sure I follow the logic for doing this but there you go.
This year’s Championship will see the return of the qualifiers but not the by now almost universally disliked Super 8s. Further significant structural change is, however, under active discussion, with two proposals set to be debated at next month’s Congress.
- A league-based All-Ireland series with a separate provincial Championship, or
- A provincial Championship structure with four groups of eight teams and the National League format remaining the same.
There are obvious pluses and minuses to both options (the Antrim Chairman was out of the traps rapidly to oppose the second variant outlined above) but it appears from those pieces linked above that there’s fairly strong support for change of some kind.
That makes abundant sense. The structure used up to last year, a Frankenstein monster combination of provincial Championships, qualifiers and Super 8s, was always untenable for the long-term and while the return to the straight knockout format worked for last year it clearly isn’t the answer either.
My own preference would be for a league-based Championship but, as already noted, the two options on the table have their own merits and drawbacks. One thing’s certain, though, and that’s that the proposed new formats are sure to generate plenty of debate. But sure what else have we to be doing in these benighted pandemic times?