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‘This will be known as the COVID-19 championship’ – delegates back proposal on planned formats

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*James Corry in action against Feakle’s Eoin Tuohy. Photograph: Mark Hayes

Structures for Clare’s adult club championships have been finalised following a lengthy debate at Monday’s meeting of the County Board.

In the Clare SHC and Clare IHC, there will be an unseeded draw for the first round pitting eight teams against each other, in the second round the eight winners from round one will play the eight losers and the winner of the second round tie will advance to the quarter-finals.

Football follows a different format. Six teams will be pitted against each other following an open draw. For the second round, all of the winners from round one will face off with the three teams that secure back to back victories advancing to the semi-finals.

On the other side of the draw, the six defeated first round teams will square off, the three teams that win will then progress to a three-way play-off. The play-off will take place over the course of one weekend, a draw will take place to see who gets a bye with the first tie expected to be played on a Friday evening, the winner of which will then play on Monday against the club that receives a bye, the side to progress from the play-off will then qualify for the final semi-final spot.

Speaking at Monday’s meeting of Clare County Board, Chairman Joe Cooney outlined that the start date for the championships could be brought forward to July 23rd “to give consideration to the inter-county panels and managements”. He told delegates that the senior management were “adamant” that short campaigns be in place for clubs.

Chairperson of Clare’s Master Fixtures Committee, Colm Browne said they were forced to “go back to the drawing board” with the creation of new structures as a result of COVID-19. The recently published roadmap on returning to play by the GAA has afforded Clare GAA an extra two weeks to run off their adult championships. Key principles including giving every club two games, liaising with county managements, looking after clubs and generating revenue influenced their thinking. Championships will be completed in ten weeks as per the proposals, with five weeks each for football and hurling. “The formats are not ideal and not perfect but we are not in a perfect year,” he stated.

Cratloe Chairperson Kevin Browne acknowledged that having to come up with a new format was “an impossible job” but felt the extra two weeks allowed for an earlier start and thus enabled Clare GAA to stick with the layout used in last year’s Clare SHC, “a super six week championship”. “Clubs are bursting with hurlers, no one has gone on a J1 and all the county players are around”. He believed the SHC proposal meant the opening round was “a dead rubber” and said it would be “naive” for people to think clubs were not back contact training before Monday.

Flan Mullane of Clonlara supported Cratloe’s request to retain the format of last year. “Putting county teams before clubs is not fair,” he stated. “Two matches in the one year is not good enough”. Scariff also voiced their backing of keeping the current style and they suggested starting a week earlier as did Newmarket-on-Fergus with delegate Siobhán Marren explaining there was scope to go with groups of four or the previous format. Éire Óg supported the call to go against the Master Fixtures committee. Rory Hickey commented, “By the time championship is over, the county management will have most players available”.

A member of Brian Lohan’s backroom team, Niall Romer told delegates that the former Clare captain wants a full championship so that he can his players in action and that he favoured the 2019 format. “He wants a level playing field, he hasn’t his players since the 11th of March”, Romer continued and said Lohan wished that the Clare clubs would be concluded at the same time as their Limerick counterparts.

Support for the Master Fixtures proposal was voiced by Ballyea. “We want our county team to do as well as possible,” Sean Griffin said. He stressed that dual clubs also needed to be considered in the decision-making.

Whitegate described online comments that they were acting in the best interests of the Wexford backroom team as “laughable”. Dermot Hayes said the club was “treated poorly” on social media and criticised comments aimed at Davy Fitzgerald and Brendan Bugler. “We have no intention other than to promote hurling in our club”.

Brian Torpey of Tulla requested four groups of four be implemented in the Clare IHC and highlighted that consideration was needed for giving second games in the Junior B and C championships, “they won’t impact on Brian Lohan’s or Colm Collins’ plans”.

Maintaining the format of recent years was “fairest” according to Sixmilebridge delegate, Christy Murray. He also suggested starting the championship earlier. “Lohan will have all the panel back by October bar those on the two teams in the final”.

Former County Board Chairman, Michael ‘Malty’ McDonagh put forward St Joseph Miltown’s request that the Clare SFC and Clare IFC be split in four groups of three which was supported by Doonbeg’s John Keane and Ambrose Heagney of Corofin.

Responding to delegates, Colm Browne said he would have used the 2019 hurling format if they had six weeks available. He emphasised that the Clare footballers have “two very important” league games to be played in October to determine if they remain in Division 2. He admitted that the committee considered the prospect of four groups of three for the Clare SFC and Clare IFC.

Clooney/Quin voiced opposition to resuming the championship earlier than planned. “We haven’t been training, maybe we have been naive,” John Skehan remarked. He believed July 24th was the earliest the competitions could commence. By such a date, October 10th would be the earliest date by which the finals would be played.

“This will be known as the COVID-19 championship,” Ruan’s Ger Lyons declared. He said the proposal of the Master Fixtures Committee should be passed. “Half a loaf is better than no loaf,” O’Callaghans Mills delegate Robert Frost quipped as he supported Lyons’ call.

Reference to the virus prompted Browne to state of using groups in the football, “If a team was impacted by COVID-19, there would be a much bigger implication for the group situation”. Subsequent to this, Andrew Monaghan (Tubber), Dominic Conroy (Michael Cusacks), John Skehan (Clooney/Quin) and Brian Markham (Coolmeen) all spoke in favour of backing the committee’s plans.

Having previously spoke against the proposals, Rory Hickey had a change of heart, “The safest option is to go with the proposals from the Master Fixtures Committee”.

A counter-proposal was put to the meeting by Christy Murray and was supported by Kevin Browne that the 2019 format be kept and the games start on July 17th.

Following a vote, delegates backed the proposal from the Master Fixtures Committee 36-12. The defeat of the counter-proposal also ensured there would be no change to the structures proposed for the Clare SFC and Clare IFC.

Clareabbey will host the draws for all adult championships this Wednesday at 7:30pm.

Páraic McMahon is Head of News & Sport with The Clare Echo. The Newmarket-on-Fergus native also writes for national papers including The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times along with doing work for RTÉ, Today FM, TheJournal.ie and The42.ie. A graduate of Mary Immaculate College, Páraic was previously employed by The Clare Herald and Clare FM. If you have a story, tip or some feedback for him then send an email to - paraic@clareecho.ie

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