Kilkenny hurling: the big plan will leave club players without matches for who knows how long

John Knox

Reporter:

John Knox

Email:

@kilkennypeoplesport

Kilkenny hurling: the big plan will leave club players without matches for who knows how long

John Lockes (Callan) and St Martin's (Muckalee) provided good fare in the first matches in the IHL but when either side will play again no one knows. The players have been given five weeks off

Kilkenny senior and intermediate clubs are in the dark right now. And there is no one who can turn on the light to help them find the way forward.
The weekend before last the 12 senior and the 12 intermediate clubs involved in the league/championships turned out, all ready, all willing, all firing for the opening action in the competitions.
It was all very good. The matches ran to schedule. Teams and players put in fine efforts. 
Okay, by and large the action looked early season stuff, but that’s supposed to be the case.
And clubs, or the vast majority of them, helped with the assembling of the weekend match programme and provided lineouts that were reasonably close to the teams that took the field.
All very good. The clubs looked after their end of the business. 
The County Board and referees did the same, and it was good to have the starting times of matches on both Saturday and Sunday staggered so supporters could make their way to a couple of games at their leisure.
Lovely hurling, as they say!
Except it isn’t now. The senior and intermediate clubs, the main clubs in terms of where  players are being grooming for the Kilkenny senior team in the immediate future - for the under-21 also; but that local competition won’t start until September - don’t know when the next series of matches will be played.
They have been told it is depends on Kilkenny’s progress in the championship
Kilkenny are the current National League champions, so it is not unreasonable to think they might do well enough in the championship.
So how might that shape the timeline?
The Leinster championship runs until Sunday, July 1, when the final will be played in Croke Park.
Winners on the day
The All-Ireland championship begins with preliminary quarter-finals on Saturday and Sunday, July 7/8 involving the third placed teams in the Leinster and Munster groups. These games must provide winners on the day.
The All-Ireland quarter-finals involving the runners-up in Leinster and Munster will be played on July 15. The semi-finals are pencilled in for July 28 and 29. 
The All-Ireland is fixed for three weeks later, August 19. 
With a bit of luck, Kilkenny could do well. In that case, it might be early September before clubs see more serious action. 
That might not even be the case. If Kilkenny were lucky enough to make it through to the All-Ireland final, and if that ended in a draw and required a replay, then there would be even more trouble. 
The All-Ireland final replay date has been fixed for Saturday, September 8. So it is a possibility, remote, but still not beyond all bounds, that there might be no top end club hurling in Kilkenny until mid-September, at the earliest!
Basically no one has a clue at the moment, and  no one wants to spell out the darkest possibility.
And as a result of the uncertainty, most club players have been given a holiday from training. Two clubs we know, on in each division, have called off training. 
They will recommence in five weeks time to prepare for what will be the second start, yes, the second start to the season, whenever that might be.
To say clubs are livid is an understatement. Clubs want games. Players want game. Fans want games.     
Without regular games, and the training required for them, players won’t improve their skill levels. In fact, they might simply drift away and chase regular action in other codes.  
Kilkenny run good competitions. The success enjoyed by the county is not an accident, but is directly related to the competitive competitions run at local level.
The schedule of games  for clubs is, in ordinary circumstances, well planned. Clubs get a fixtures booklet at the County Board meeting in March and that lays out the programme of matches as they will unfold for the rest of the season.
If even takes into account time off for county teams to prepare for the Leinster and All-Ireland championships, if the need arises. The only thing it doesn’t take account of is the weather. 
If nature explodes and leads to the cancellation of games, well, that’s dealt with at the time. 
There is space or what officers term ‘wriggle room’ to readjust the programme.
The point is clubs and players have a reasonably accurate picture of how the season will unfold. 
By the time clubs get the fixtures programme parish events like Communion, Confirmation, Field Days, wedding even, plus other events have been considered and the official games programme is shaped around them.
A plan
So everyone steps into the season working off a well laid out, well thought out plan. Players and families can plan holidays. Students can plan American trips on the J1 Visa. 
The package is neat and tidy. There is some form of clarity.
And then we arrive at GAA Programme 2018; the new way forward. New structures for inter-county games dominate.
The National League are played earlier.
The Leinster and Munster championships will be run on a Round Robin bases, beginning on May 13 (Leinster) and ending with the finals on Sunday, July 1 (both). Grand!
Not a bad plan, on paper.
April was to be left free for club competitions. Earlier in the season some counties looked down the road and saw problems with April as far as they were concerned. 
They pushed their main competitions to the back end of the season, forgetting about April altogether. 
Fine, if that’s what they want.
Kilkenny clubs didn’t. They wanted their serious games in the senior and intermediate league/championships as per usual in April, May and July. Then they would take on the serious business of the knockout championship, beginning in September.
There is an even spread of games.
They didn’t want secondary competitions - let’s be honest, all outside the league/championships  are second level - providing the main diet of matches during the time we enjoy some of the best weather of the year.   
Clubs had accepted that April would accommodate two rounds of the league/championship. 
However, when Kilkenny did well in the League, got to and won the final, they lost a week that could have been used for club matches.
GAA Programme 2018!
From  Sunday week when the last of the senior and intermediate club matches were played, until May 13 when Kilkenny face Dublin in the first round of the Leinster Round Robin series, is four weeks. 
In real terms, that gives Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody, and his selectors three weeks for training and preparing the squad for what is a deadly serious match - it is only light muscle flexing work on the last week before big matches - which is not over doing it.  
Naturally, everyone in Kilkenny is hoping the county team does well. 
But no one can say it is fair to ask clubs to start a competition in April and then - in the successful counties - to take a huge break until September. 
And you start again then! Two starts to the one season…..
Long term that won’t work. It just won’t work. Players will be lost wholesale.
And if the  idea that was being floated not so long ago that all club competitions, including the All-Ireland club championships, should be completed within the calendar year ever comes into being then clubs will feel the squeeze even more. 
Everything will be rush, rush, rush between September and December, which is not really optimum hurling/football time.
The scenario doesn’t look great. And the current games schedule  is supposed to be for a trial, three year period.
One read last week that a high ranking GAA officials asked people to wait until the end of the season so things can be judged in their entirety.
Well, from what I have seen to date and listening to club officials, the people on the ground have already made their judgement.
The problems go deeper than clubs wondering about games and when they might be played. 
We know from covering  the colleges senior hurling championship in Leinster and at All-Ireland level that there are knock on effects.
What went on there was ridiculous. It appeared some fixtures were being played merely to get them out of the way, to fall in with a schedule.
The championship clash between eventual All-Ireland champions, St Kieran's College and Castlecomer Community School was a case in point.
It was played on an awful day, in  wind, rain, snow and freezing temperatures in Jenkinstown. The match  went to extra time.
 Why? Because a result was needed on the day. Really, the game should have been abandoned because of the weather.
As that competition unfolded, the availability of grounds became a problem.
Because National League matches were being played in quick succession during February and March, pitches all over were taking  a bit of a battering.
Colleges games?
Counties reacted by trying to protect them, which is natural enough, between rounds.
But that left no space to accommodate colleges matches in some venues. Consequently we saw St Kieran’s College having to travel to Enniscorthy to play St Peter’s College in their own backyard in a provincial semi-final.
Then even worse, St Kieran’s had to travel to Roscommon for an All-Ireland quarter-final. The story put to us on that one was that a grounds couldn’t be found for the match. 
Imagine, there were no grounds available between Kilkenny and Roscommon - a distance just four short of 100 miles.
Also, do you remember the National League quarter-final between Kilkenny and Offaly played in Tullamore in March? It was the second weekend of the snow.
That game and a lot of others were put back a day so the snow might melt and the programme could be kept up to date. 
Thanks to the Herculean  efforts of the Offaly Board that match  was able to be played. The GAA was hard pressed for dates, so it was important that match went ahead the weekend it did. 
How did the Offaly officials get the snow off the pitch?
They churned  it up using  the grass cutter used to maintain the pitch. When the snow was loosened  up it melted quicker, apparently. 
A true story!
Judge the season in its entirely. Sure, but when the time comes decision makers  must  remember things like how St Kieran’s were inconvenienced and how versatile Offaly made things happen with outside the box thinking.
And how April, the month for club competitions, didn't happen!