*Kieran Keating and Deirdre Murphy. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

GAA CLUBS in Clare need to find a common ground before convening on November 14th to vote on proposed structures for adult championships.

Over 60 delegates were present in Hotel Woodstock on Friday evening for the motions and structures meeting discussing the adult hurling leagues and championships structures review while football clubs entered the debate by voicing concerns on the risk of unequal treatment.

At the June County Board meeting, a seven-person committee was endorsed to review all adult hurling championships. They have proposed multiple recommendations including splitting the senior championship into two tiers, the creation of a premier intermediate plus equivalents at junior b and junior c.

St Joseph’s Miltown on the back of this committee’s review submitted a proposal that the 2024 Clare SFC also be played in a format of two groups of six from 2024 to guarantee a minimum of five championship games.

Opening the meeting, Chairman of Clare GAA, Kieran Keating said they would look for a formal vote on November 14th regardless of how the meeting unfolded.

PJ McGuane. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Cooraclare’s PJ McGuane questioned if clubs or the County Board had the authority to vote on something outside of County Convention “to dramatically change the structures of all our competitions. In my view, I don’t think we have, you can decide what you want at a County Board meeting but a motion to Convention can supersede it”.

This view was confirmed by Keating who advised that all matters relating to structures had generally been referred from Convention to the January Board meeting in recent years.

Agreeing on a proposal before a Convention was wrong then, in McGuane’s view, “I think we’re putting cart before the horse”. Colm Browne, Chairperson of the Master Fixtures Committee seconded McGuane and said the review was proposing to alter structures and warned that regulation structures would be changed under the review from the hurling committee.

Head of Operations with Clare GAA, Deirdre Murphy told the meeting they had received advice from Munster Council on Friday which was that the Convention dealt with the rulebook or by-laws whereas the “common practice in Clare and other counties” was for structures and fixtures to be dealt with in January.

She said the formation of the hurling committee was approved by the county committee, “they were sent off to do their work and are now coming back, it was voted on at a county committee. If defeated or endorsed, that body of work is then sent to structures, it will be either adopted or lost on floor”.

Clarity was sought by Browne, “you are suggesting it will be voted on at November and again at Convention, it is changing regulation structures”. Murphy responded, “it is voted on at the November meeting to be implemented or rejected”. He asked if it would be passed then if voted through in the next fortnight to which Keating replied, “unless someone wants to change it”. Browne stated, “that is not my understanding of the rule, it is a structure matter and I think PJ is correct”. Murphy said the review “has to go through the county committee”.

Colm Browne. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Browne a club member of the Banner GAA club stated, “It is important for the clarity of the meeting that both motions which have a big impact on the fixtures calendar which is my main viewpoint, both motions need to be considered together, we can’t have one night deciding on one and another debating another”.

Changes to the “status quo” were questioned by Michael Curtin of O’Currys. “The system down through the years has served us well, in January we would deal with motions on structures. What has happened that we’ve to come back for a special meeting, we’ve motions and suggestions from the hurling side”. Curtin added, “there is no doubt in my mind that it seems a very rushed procedure tonight”.

Michael Curtin. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Chairman Keating disagreed that it was rushed. “Whether you agree or not I’m expressing my opinion,” Curtin said to which the Chairman responded, “I tried to give you an answer but you interrupted me” and the O’Currys delegate clarified, “I didn’t interrupt you, I hadn’t finished”.

Keating told the meeting that the process was not rushed and that it was decided “early in the year” to complete a review of the structures, “this has been in the ether and offing for quite a while”. Examples of other counties who publish their fixtures and calendars for each year in December is what Clare GAA is aspiring to, the Chairman added, “We don’t need to wait until January”.

Michael ‘Malty’ McDonagh of St Joseph’s Miltown said their motion was developed by a football review committee in 2016 and that they were putting it back on the table. “If there are eight games in the senior hurling championship, there has to be eight games in the senior football championship”.

Michael ‘Malty’ McDonagh. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Advising clubs why structures were now discussed in November rather than January, Murphy said it came from the views of Tulla’s Brian Torpey at a previous meeting who suggested matters be dealt with earlier to avoid “a hangover in January”. The former Clare camogie player said in Cork and Kerry that fixtures and structures are sorted in November with fixtures produced in time for County Convention.

Bringing fixtures pre-Christmas “is the right thing,” Browne agreed. “We need to deal with what we have now, one motion cannot be decided on in November and another in January, we need to be clear on both motions”.

Páraic Boland who chaired the hurling review committee reminded delegates that their report had been with clubs since September. “We wanted to make sure our competitions were serving their clubs well and our club players well in the best possible way they can. We need to make the most of the that tight window for the sake of the club player,” he added.

Boland maintained that the views the Clare SHC is open and competitive was not accurate. He noted prior to Clonlara, three clubs have won the championship in the last ten years and Clare champions have not progressed beyond the first round in Munster in six of the last eight years. “Nearly thirty percent of our games have a nine point winning margin,” he added. A “huge gap” exists in the Clare IHC, he believed.

Páraic Boland. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Current senior formats will allow for four groups of four next year. With this he said, “a player only get three meaningful games, the county player comes back to his club and has played no league game, if you don’t get out of the group that player only has three games with their club. We’re trying to encourage young fellas to get our hurling, we would like to see them as often as we can, supporters want to see them and players want to play against them, it really important to try have as many games as we can without such a tight timeframe”.

Keating insisted, “getting players more games is key, it is something we came across in the process for the strategic review”. He continued, “This is addressing that but it is not without its issues, it comes to a limited calendar for these games”.

Background to the football proposal seven years ago was developed because “we needed a change,” Malty said. The former Clare GAA Chairman continued, “it will improve the standards, we’re saying two groups of six, every team will get five games. You have to put one with the other, this motion is from the football clubs. How is it going to work out. We can’t leave one side of the county with less games than the other, we need parity. If you develop these proposals you will flog players, if you pass one and leave the other you will leave one side disenchanted and it will cause serious problems for the County Board”.

Anthony O’Halloran of St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield said “the elephant in the room is the dual players”. He added, “you flog dual clubs twice as bad, we will be murdered and looking at five games in hurling, five games in football so that is ten games before we get into the knockout, it is grand for the single clubs, they want more football and more hurling but the dual clubs don’t have isolated players, it is going to get tougher and tougher, we will be forcing players to make a decision because they won’t be able to do both”.

McGuane agreed with O’Halloran but flagged, “it is not the dual club, it is the dual player, they are all over the county, you have Miltown, Inagh/Kilnamona, we have three fellas from our place missing if there is hurling on, it is the players we are flogging, the clubs will survive but the players will become disenchanted”.

Irish and Cultural Officer, Joe Garry told the meeting he was part of the football review committee in 2016. “We were a bit bolder than Páraic and suggested to cut the number of teams”. He voiced his support for Miltown’s proposal to allow for more games but felt neither option was feasible. “We don’t have sixteen weeks to do this, the dual players and dual clubs, in an ideal world it would be great to have this but the room isn’t there and I can’t see it working, the players are the ones to lose out”.

Rory Hickey, Éire Óg’s delegate said he spoke with over a dozen dual-players from the Ennis club, “it is very tight and I don’t see how we can manage both, it is half grand the way it is”.

Ennistymon Chairman, Shane Talty recalled previous debate on a potential clash for the quarter-final play-off in the SFC, “it was clear that night if fixtures went a certain direction that clubs wouldn’t agree to fulfil them”. He warned that both the proposal from the hurling committee and Miltown “locks in that potential clash year on year, are we genuinely saying we will lock it in and knowing clubs will not agree, it is head in the sand stuff”. The Fianna Fáil councillor continued, “To adopt both we’re opting out of Munster club and agreeing to let the U21 championships run into December.. Leaving it as is, we finish on October 19th and are not flogging players”. He felt the hurling proposals was focused on protecting ten teams from relegation “which seems bizarre to me”.

Every group has a bye “to avoid them being deliberately flogged,” Boland said in response. He said, “two or three teams will have a full run of five games”.

Donal Kelly, Ballyea Chairman pointed out that in the event of a bereavement clubs would be expected to play two games in eight days. “What do we want, flog them all together, what is wrong with what we have”.

Club players are not getting enough games, Keating stated. Liam O’Reilly a member of the review committee said the new proposal has 44 matches whereas this year’s championship had 41, “there is three matches in the difference and two less than last year”. Should four groups of four be in place, there would be 37 matches.

Continuing with 37 games would mean “introducing more meaningless games,” Boland asserted to which Clare GAA secretary Deirdre Chaplin reminded him, “we only had one this year, one”. Boland then described the Senior B championship as “meaningless”.

Under the Miltown proposal if Clare were not in the All-Ireland hurling final, the first round of the SFC would start on July 21st and be concluded by October 20th, Keating noted. “It is fine to say forget about Munster but it matters when someone gets to the final and says they want their shot at it”.

Dual concerns were also acknowledged by the Chairman, “ten weeks in a row for dual club is a big issue, there is no sugar coating that, we want more games if that is what involved or do we not”.

John Meade of Kildysart questioned when proposals to finish the All-Ireland club championship in the one calendar year will be introduced and whether this was factored into the thinking of the committee. The All-Ireland club final will not be brought forward but semi-finals are to be held in December, Keating said.

“It won’t work, we’ll flog our dual players,” Malty warned of the proposals. “We should not be one against the other, we will have more serious problems than we realise, we’re a dual club because we have lads playing hurling and can’t ask them to play 10 weeks in a row, we have a duty of care to players, it won’t be good to club players”.

Kevin Browne, Chairman of Cratloe GAA club but who was one of the seven on the review committee said that they had between fifteen to sixteen meetings. He noted that their report had been discussed at three County Board meetings, “I can’t remember a single football club saying there should be a football review, Miltown fair play to them, they have a motion based on a committee from seven years ago, should there not be a football committee who have to turn it around in two months”.

Pitting football against hurling is “extremely dangerous,” Browne warned. “We have a duty of care to players but also a duty of care to people promoting both codes and protection of that”. He added that the football review didn’t progress for the reason that “there was insufficient room in the calendar”. He referenced a report from Munster Council which said Clare GAA scored 90% on its review but that they were meeting the required amount of games. He said, “if both of these motions pass a dual player will have nine rounds to get to a quarter-final, that is a lot of games for a period of time”.

Aspects of the report are “absolutely brilliant” according to O’Halloran but the senior structure needs to be revised.

Ollie Baker. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Two-time All-Ireland winner, Ollie Baker was also part of the hurling review committee. He spoke of player retention plus investment in strength and conditioning by clubs. He stressed, “It is not ten consecutive weeks, we’ve taken consideration, it is not ten successive weeks”. Baker added, “One of the biggest points we discussed at meetings was what we wanted players to have was the ambition to win the competition they enter, to some clubs I know from speaking to, the ambition is not to get relegated, the ambition changes from not to be relegated to be successful in a competition. The tier two pits the same standard of teams together”.

O’Reilly said the committee did benchmarking against other counties. He referenced the All-Ireland champions, Limerick who concluded their premier intermediate championship where all eight teams play each other “last weekend” in time for the Munster club.

St Breckan’s Chairman, Aidan McDermott stated, “As what is proposed for single club, you will have a month of a break in the summer which is not right”. He felt, “we are forgetting about the league process which is biggest part of the year”. O’Reilly responded that the league does not have county players to which McDermott said the inter-county players “have loads of matches”. He said that the one extra game to find the final quarter-final spot is causing a lot of the problems.

Newmarket-on-Fergus delegate, Pat Keogh paid tribute to the hurling review committee. “Six weeks ago we had a discussion meeting, Páraic Boland brought up a great point that this year Diarmuid Ryan and Shane O’Donnell only played three championship hurling matches with their club which is shameful, I would love to go to see Newmarket-on-Fergus every day but I go to see the other stars we have, I don’t think we’re promoting hurling if we’re sticking to three championship matches”.

Vice Chairman of Clare GAA, Michael O’Connor suggested that if the four groups of four is retained that the winner of each group progresses to a quarter-final with the second and third placed team advancing to the preliminary quarter-final with the fourth placed team in each group competing in the relegation semi-finals whereas the loser of these face off in a final to determine who drops down.

Sixmilebridge delegate, PJ Fitzpatrick said the review committee was established “because of perceived weaknesses”. He said hurling or football should not be devalued. “Playing week in week out, it was awful easy to run it because you had a match, training session during the week, you rested fellas who had done too much and redressed balance of training versus matches, it would be an awful shame to get fellas to go to the ins and outs that we find all the faults, let it go for a year and let football clubs come together to see what they get could come up with. I would love to see the present proposal carried by the committee trailed for a year”.

Seconding this, Bob Enright of Newmarket-on-Fergus observed, “What is evident here tonight and maybe it is not for me to say it, there does need to be a football equivalent of what the hurling review committee have done. You won’t do that in six or eight weeks, it has taken the committee at least six or eight weeks to do what they have done”. He stated, “Trial the recommendations of the hurling committee for 2025 and maybe 2026, while that is going on let the football clubs come together and put a football committee in place”.

Enright’s views were immediately rebuffed by Malty McDonagh, “That is not going to work, we need to work in tandem and work with the hurling committee. We will leave our motion stand, it is the best that is there, if you don’t have both working together then you will have problems. We leave our motion stand”.

Views from Sixmilebridge and Newmarket-on-Fergus for a football committee to be created drew the attention of Joe Garry. “I was on the review, we can review the review if ye want. I haven’t heard any football club wanting a football review so I’m not sure why Newmarket-on-Fergus and Sixmilebridge are looking for a review”.

Parteen/Meelick’s Kieran O’Halloran said they were a dual club already playing games on Sundays and Wednesdays. He voiced frustration with five teams in one group leading to byes in different rounds. “You will try concertina games in at lower level, it is a tough sit when your bye is in the last ground and you’re sitting on the sidelines, it is a tough stand for a club that has done four matches in a row to figure what has to happen, people will look back at these meeting and say why didn’t someone say it”.

Kieran Keating. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Getting a perfect system is “very hard,” Keating acknowledged, “we have to accept there will be some flaws”. O’Halloran then warned that wetter summers could become more common leading to more cancellations, “we’re trying to pigeon hole but we’e building in no contingency to the plan”. Keating responded, “We don’t have windows or timescales for what we have.. The contingency is that we abandon Munster club if it comes to it”.

Members of the fixtures committee have “always tried to provide certainty to clubs on when championships will start”. He continued, “Clubs want a start date, people will accept if we make an All-Ireland final there will be flexibility, there would be ten rounds for clubs involving dual players in tier two of senior hurling, they will have five rounds in each”.

An appetite for Miltown’s motion to apply to intermediate was voiced by Curtin and supported by David O’Connell from Shannon Gaels “to have parity”.

Kilmurry Ibrickane delegate, John Brew said they were behind the Miltown proposal. “Maybe the elephant in the room has been mentioned and it is the split season, if you’re playing an All-Ireland hurling final in July, it is not 50/50 split, we are hearing tonight managers want county players in December so it is leaving four months of the year for players to be with club”.

Priorities of certain clubs was “very clear,” Murphy observed. She felt the evening had not been a waste. “People have a very clear understanding, it makes no sense not to take them together but it does not make sense to kick this can to January”. Deirdre said the November meeting would see a vote on the proposals. “Our wish as a board is to try develop every club in Clare, it is very clear to us and we have to work under remit of what is proposed”.

Keating said that none of the clubs were represented at the meeting by a club player “which is a pity”. He commented, “It is important that you go back and speak to players in your clubs, do we perceive what we want as administrators. The players are the important people in this, player welfare is a concern and we need to hear what our club players would like to see, discuss with them in your clubs and see what way they want delegate to vote for on Tuesday week”.

If a structures meeting is taking place in November, clubs must be advised “accordingly,” Browne told the officials.

McGuane’s call to debate the structures in January did not receive support when stressing the need for parity of esteem. Tubber’s Andrew Monaghan said it was not possible to expect it could be resolved in January if this meeting drew little resolution, “You’d need January to last for three months to get a consensus, everyone has come in here minding their own back door”. Getting the views of players was “the most sensible thing said, I can’t see anyone in this room togging out any day soon, they are the people playing it, they are the ones togging out,” he added.

Fiona Whelan of Ballyea touted the potential of following examples elsewhere where either hurling or football is ran off on its own first and then revert to the other code before swapping the order the next year.

Voting on the matter in eleven days “is too big for the likes of us,” said Corofin’s Ambrose Heagney. “People talk about welfare, I’m talking about dual clubs, it has been very difficult to promote and we’re being really squeezed. It is damaging our club, we don’t want to prioritise one code over the other”. Kicking the can down the road is not the answer to this, Keating replied.

“It has all gone about in good faith, fixtures analysts and committee recommended the hurling committee be set in place, this has evolved as it has all in good faith,” Murphy assured the meeting. “There is no anti-football agenda as has been suggested,” she stressed. The “democratic process” is the best way to solve it without a consensus, she maintained.

Malty McDonagh then called for the hurling committee to meet with their football counterparts from 2016 to try find a solution. “We’re all fighting for own corner, I can’t see us coming to an agreement”.

Keating said they could try to organise such a meeting.

Delegates will return to vote on the proposals at the November meeting of the County Board on November 14th.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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