Conor Mahon and K/K await an SHC final fixture
THE Offaly GAA County Board will not be finalising their plans for the 2021 club programme until definite inter-county fixtures and there is more news on the relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions.
With senior inter-county teams allowed back training on April 19 and the National Football and Hurling Leagues set to start in May, the first months of the season will be devoted to county activity.
The inter-county championship season will be played on a knockout basis with the provincial championships starting at the end of June. Club championships will be played from September to December, though counties may be allowed to start earlier as their teams are knocked out of the inter-county championships.
Offaly, however, have a number of last year's competitions still outstanding. While almost all the adult football championship competitions were completed, the hurling didn't get finished with Senior, Senior “B” and Intermediate down to finals - the junior also has to be played off.
Playing those competitions will be a priority once the go ahead is given while all of last year's underage championships still have to be finished. None of these are down to final stage and fitting them into this year's schedule is challenging. However, underage teams will be allowed back training in pods of fifteen on a non contact basis from April 26 and there are hopes that they will be allowed to resume games fairly early.
Chairman of the Offaly GAA Competitions Control Committee James Murphy confirmed this week that they will be giving clubs two weeks notice before playing the finals – Kilcormac/Killoughey and St Rynagh's will meet in the SHC final, the SHC “B” final is between Kinnitty and Drumcullen while Coolderry and Shinrone are in the IHC final. The Junior Hurling Championships also have to be finished.
He does not envisage that they will get them played before Offaly's inter-county season is over and the new champions in each grade will have to begin the defence of their title within two weeks as they bid to complete the 2021 championships within the calendar year. Each championship will be played on a league basis in two groups unless a Covid-19 surge and new restrictions emerge in which case a knockout may be considered. However, Mr Murphy stated that this would be very much a “last resort” and that they want to give club players more than one championship game in the Summer.
All of last year's underage championships are also to be completed from last year. With underage teams allowed back training at the end of the month, these may be able to be finished in the medium term future but Offaly's progress to the 2020 Leinster minor football and hurling finals does complicate matters. These will go ahead as soon as the Government allows them and with counties likely to get three weeks notice, this could delay the club minor championships.
Offaly GAA chairman Michael Duignan stated this week that they will be looking for as much information as possible on the inter-county schedule before drawing up their club plans. “Our priority is to get last year's finals played and then look at when we can start. We have no return to train date for adult club teams yet. It is in the air but we are hoping they will be allowed back in May and then we cvan play league matches.”
He is not hopeful that Offaly will be able to fit in last year's adult championship hurling finals during the inter-county season. “There is a very short window for county teams. It is very condensed and there are no real windows.”
While he had called for underage club teams to be allowed back earlier, Mr Duignan welcomed the fact that they now have a date and that senior county teams can go back next week. He is also pleased that Leinster Council and the GAA have committed to finishing last year's county minor and U-20 championships. “It is important that they are not left behind, particularly for our two minor teams. They have been training since last October and deserve those finals.”
He was disappointed to see recent headlines about Dublin and Monaghan senior footballers breaking Covid-19 restrictions by having organised training. “It was very disappointing. Obviously what lads are doing out in the middle of a field has been proven to be relatively safe but organised training is not allowed and it was not a good example to see one of the greatest teams of all times breaking the rules. The rules are there, whether you agree with them or not and you must follow them.”
Mr Duignan reported that all Offaly county teams have obeyed the rules with no organised training, though players have carried out individual programmes. He urged Offaly adult club teams to obey rules and not have organised training. “We have no evidence of anyone doing anything and we have asked clubs to stick with it. I'd be concerned that with NPHET and the Government looking in, other evidence of breaches might impact on their decision to allow people back. We don't want it to sour things for everyone else. Lads training on their own and doing a bit is understandable but organised training is off the agenda.”
The inter-county season will run from the weekend of May 8th/9th with the start of the Allianz Hurling League and the football league a week later, to the weekend of August 28/29 when the All-Ireland Football Final will be played. The Provincial Football and Hurling championships will commence on the weekend of June 26/27.
The County and Provincial Club Championships will be played in the months of September, October, November, and December with the All-Ireland Club Finals scheduled for February 2022. Club championships can begin once the county has been eliminated from the championship.
The entire inter-county fixtures programme will be run off in a 20-week period and guarantees a minimum of five games for each Senior County Football and Hurling team with all bar three counties guaranteed six games in hurling.
Counties were given provisional National Football and Hurling League fixtures on Monday but they won't be publically released until later this week after they have an opportunity to suggest changes.