Column: Fixture Schedules Covid’s Green Shoot

So there will be no St. Patricks day parade in March 2021! That’s two years running.

Paddy’s day 2020 was as we all remember; one like no other. No club finals, no rugby schools finals, no parade, no Guinness!

We thought that it would be a one off, but news this week confirmed that the 2021 parade and national holiday has now been halted.

Yet in every moment of darkness that Covid-19 has brought us, a light of how better to do things arrives, and covid-19 alterations to the sporting calendar are ones where we now know we can improve things.

For instance the arguments over the split GAA season might run and run, but one argument will now stand tall, it was done in 2020!

Undoubtedly the success story of the 2020 GAA season was the club championship ran from July to October. Ok some counties including Longford didn’t get to finish their campaigns, but more interest and a higher quality of games, certainly fuelled the club season.

So to the curtailed All-Ireland championship of 2020. The dubs being the ever consistent winners although the old school championship was completed in eight weeks.

In 1991 the championship played over the same format albeit replays included took four months to run off.

The requirement to get the championship finished, eliminated eight weeks of the calendar or maybe eight empty weekends.

The 91 championship included seven replays, three of them the famous Dublin and Meath battle, which I always remind people was a Leinster preliminary round game.

The GAA’s planning department of 1991 moved as slowly as that of the local county council’s. The first Dublin v Meath game taking place on June second with game four on July six.

Two empty weekends extended out the Leinster championship with the final eventually being played on August 10th as Meath needed a replay to get past Wicklow in the quarter-final.

Obviously that season was some 30-years ago, however the 2019 season, back-door and all ran from May five to September 14.

The 2019 season contested of just three replays (including the final) but four rounds of back door games and three weeks of the super-8.

In theory an extra seven weeks of scheduled football from the 1991 variant.

Now a GAA scheduling story is nothing new in any terms and has probably filled more column inches than the battle of the Somme, the ever enduring battle being one of tradition rather than sense.

As a young man, the famed “Hurling weekend” robbed many of us a good game of ball, and resulted in those summer games held over from October.

“The hurlers need to be looked after” I hear the calls still. My club didn’t have any hurling teams!

The 2021 season is of course very different to that of 2020; in some terms, the provincial championship remain as we await for the covid green light.

In reality the Leinster championship being the one with the most rounds, surely could start on June five with three preliminary games, remove the replays and the Leinster final could be as early as June 26! – Now that would be fast.

Although the GAA itself isn’t alone in this new proved reality environment. For years, in fact just about its entire 100-year history, Irish athletics ran their national senior championship over a Saturday and Sunday weekend programme.

12-6pm on Saturday mainly heats and semi-finals with the odd final thrown in for good measure and Sunday being 2-8pm.

Hampered by the 200 attendee covid-19 rule, even behind closed doors, the athletics organisers dreamt up a solution of seven 90 minute sessions over two weekends.

While clearing the stadium of all personal to allow a clean-up between sessions was an undoubted success, hopefully that piece shall be a one-off.

But surely the new two weekend format, with both Sunday’s being 90-minutes sessions would draw more interest from across board.

Allowing athlete’s to double-up, for instance as Eamonn Coghlan famously won both the 800m and 1500m in one day. A new two-weekend format would allow the new Coughlan the build-up week to follow-up on his success.

Interest for any athlete male or female to achieve such an achievement would undoubtedly grab us journo’s, TV cameras and the general public’s attention.

Flexibility was everywhere in 2020! The FAI cup final eventually being played two weekends before Christmas! The GAA holding back their schedule and their arena’s until just weeks before throw-in of game one.

Covid-19 caused so much damage in our lives, in our day-to-day, in the joy of playing sport, the joy of competing.

The way many of us got out of Covid-19 in 2020 was to plough the field and look to sow new seeds in 2021!

Green shoots of good scheduling and better events may have already sprung.