With last Saturday’s provincial Championship draws and the emergence over the weekend of details of the provisional fixtures for the National Leagues, the shape of what our inter-county fixture list might look like next year is starting to emerge.
It’s worth noting at the outset, however, that no dates have been confirmed yet for any of the fixtures we’re likely to be facing in 2024. They probably won’t be either until the Master Fixture List for next year is published closer to Christmas.
So, with that caveat in mind, here’s what we know at this point about what’s in store for us in 2024.
The National League campaign will get underway on the final weekend of January. Ahead of that there’ll be the annual pre-season FBD League kick-about in the Dome, where we’re likely to start with a semi-final on either Friday 12th or Saturday 13th January. If we make the FBD final, that will be on the following weekend.
Round 1 of the League will be on the weekend of 27th/28th January and the provisional fixture list sees us away to Galway. There aren’t floodlights in Pearse Stadium so that means the game will be on there on the Sunday.
Round 2 is a home match against Derry. That’s set to be played on the Saturday (3rd February) after the Galway game, under the lights at MacHale Park.
There’s usually a week’s break then so we can expect Round 3 to be played on the weekend of 17th/18th February. In Round 3 we’re away to Kerry and that’ll almost certainly be played under the lights in Tralee so will be another Saturday evening game.
So too will our Round 4 match, which is away to Tyrone. That’s on the weekend after the Kerry game and if it’s a Saturday evening match the date for it is 24th February.
Round 5 follows the weekend after, with Roscommon coming to Castlebar so that’s another Saturday night under the lights game. That Saturday is 2nd March.
After Round 5 there’s another weekend off so Round 6, in which we welcome Dublin to MacHale Park, will be on St Patrick’s weekend. Once again, this will be a Saturday evening game, so will be on 16th March.
In Round 7 all the matches take place at the same time on the Sunday so our final round game away to Monaghan will take place on Sunday 24th March.
The National League Division One final, which we absolutely do not want to have anything to do with next year, will then be held on Sunday 31st March. Seven days after that we play our Connacht Championship opener against New York over in Gaelic Park.
Based on this year’s fixture schedule and assuming we beat the Yanks, our Connacht semi-final meeting with Roscommon would take place on the weekend of 20th/21st April, with the Connacht final on a fortnight after that, i.e. the weekend of 4th/5th May.
Round 1 of the All-Ireland SFC Group Stage is likely to be pencilled in for the weekend of 18th/19th May, though, depending on what group we’re in, this could be the weekend after that. At this point, guessing which weekend we might be playing becomes a bit of a pointless exercise so I suppose that’s as far as our possible fixture list for next year needs to be sketched out at this stage.
Three points leap from the above.
The first is another health warning about all those possible fixture dates. None of them are confirmed as yet so if you go and book flights, hotels etc. based on them, then on your own head be it.
Second, that League schedule looks pretty damned stale. It’s the same fixture list, in reverse, that we had last year, save for the two changes due to the relegation of Armagh and Donegal and the promotion of Derry and Dublin. This is the way the GAA always do their League fixtures and while this makes planning easier for them, it does nothing to promote the competition.
Lastly, the way supporters are being force-fed too many inter-county matches in such a short space of time – with the end of the League rammed ceremoniously up the rear end of the Championship’s start – is self-evident from the potential schedule set out above.
As I said on the highlights pod the other day, if the inter-county season is to be restricted to the six months from the end of January to the end of July, then this ludicrous schedule simply cannot hold over the longer term. Supporters are already picking and choosing what matches to go to and the way in which they’re already voting with their feet is plain to see.
If you stir into the mix separate concerns about how unattractive the modern game has become as a spectacle, it’s not all that far-fetched to see the makings of what could be a serious problem for the GAA. You’d never know, it might even become the kind of a crisis that could jolt them to start thinking about what the Croke Park suits call their “product” and how it might be made more attractive for supporters.
But that’s all for another day. For now, I guess, we need to start rousing ourselves to go again in the New Year. Once we get final confirmation, of course, about where we’re actually going next year.