The GAA’s Central Council will be asked this weekend to consider a request to spike the four football league finals because of time pressure from an expanded championship programme.
o guarantee two weeks between the last regulation football league games on the last weekend in March and the commencement of the provincial football championships on the second weekend in April, the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) have flagged their request in a note to counties ahead of Saturday’s meeting.
The potential for league finals to be scrapped to create more space on the calendar was floated last month by Connacht secretary John Prenty. The league hurling finals would however remain on the schedule, provisionally fixed for April 1/2 as the Munster and Leinster hurling round-robin championship do not get underway for another three weeks, April 22/23.
If the league finals are kept then some finalists could potentially be playing a provincial championship match a week later if they were involved in preliminary games in Leinster, Ulster or Connacht.
CCCC will again request a deviation of Rule 6.31 to allow for the All-Ireland football final to be played on the 31st weekend of the year, not the 30th weekend as the rule prescribes.
That would have the effect of extending the championship by one week with the final scheduled for Sunday July 30, according to the proposed draft.
If Central Council approves the proposals the new football championship format will see round-robin qualifiers for the Sam Maguire and Tailteann Cups played over three weekends, beginning on the second last weekend of May 18/19 for teams not involved in the provincial finals.
Those involved in the provincial football finals would play their first qualifier games a week later with round two taking place a week after that for all teams on June 3/4.
A two-week break would follow before the third round of round-robin games would be played with the second and third place play-offs taking place on June 24/25.
The All-Ireland football quarter-finals have been provisionally fixed for the first weekend of July 1/2.
The provincial football finals have been slated for two weekends in early May, the Connacht and Munster finals on May 6/7 and the Leinster and Ulster finals on May 13/14, two weeks earlier than this year. That gives the provinces six weeks to complete their programmes with the start earmarked for April 8/9.
In hurling there are some significant changes too. The Munster and Leinster hurling finals will both be played on the same Sunday afternoon, June 10/11, with the Leinster final likely to be given the late afternoon billing for this year.
That has a consequence for the Joe McDonagh Cup final, which is traditionally played now as a curtain-raiser to the Leinster hurling final.
But because the game requires live broadcast, it would clash with the Munster hurling final.
So the McDonagh Cup final has now been provisionally fixed for May 27/28, as a potential curtain-raiser to the All-Ireland U-20 hurling final. Traditionally the U-20 final has been played in Thurles but under this arrangement, Croke Park would be the more likely venue.
The other consequence is that McDonagh Cup finalists would then have a three-week break until they play a preliminary quarter-final in the MacCarthy Cup, not the one week afforded previously. McDonagh Cup teams have been consulted on this and the proposed arrangement would be on a trial basis.
There may also be changes to the hurling league schedule, with a three-week break after the first three rounds to avoid clashes with the Fitzgibbon Cup final, planned for February 18/19, and Congress on February 25/26.
In their notes to counties asking for discussion ahead of the weekend meeting, CCCC acknowledge this is “not ideal” and have requested that Congress be brought forward by one week “to minimise the number of games being played on the weekend of Annual Congress, and to ensure an even spread of rounds in the Allianz Hurling League.”
Inter-county teams will be cleared to return to collective training on November 24, if the draft plan is approved on Saturday, with allowance for a meeting/induction day in advance of that. That would allow for a nine-week pre-season ahead of the leagues which start on the last weekend of January though, in consultation with the Gaelic Players Association, it has been agreed to suspend training from December 23-27 inclusive and again on December 31. Challenge games will only be permitted from January 1 onwards.