The East Kerry Board’s decision to fix the O’Donoghue Cup first round game between Dr Crokes and Fossa for Sunday, December 9 means that the competition is unlikely to be wrapped up before Christmas Day. Players from certain clubs are now being forced to play from January right up to the end of December; a 12-month campaign with virtually no off-season. And we thought last year’s tournament was bad…
Well, it was. Holders Dr Crokes refused to field a team for their semi-final clash with Legion because it was fixed for the week before their Munster final against Nemo. They were subsequently thrown out of the competition.
This year, in a direct response to that particular situation, the East Kerry Board passed a motion stating that no club in a provincial decider can be asked to play O’Donoghue Cup the weekend before.
With Crokes facing Miltown/Malbay next Sunday (November 25), this weekend was off the table, so Fossa v Crokes will now take place two weeks after the Munster final. A lot of people are unhappy with this arrangement as it means that several other clubs have to hang around until Christmas to finish up for the year.
This time last year I floated the idea of getting rid of the Super League and playing the opening rounds of the O’Donoghue Cup at the start of the season.
This week I spoke to six prominent local footballers from six different clubs and asked them for their thoughts on that particular idea, and on the fixture debacle in general. Here’s what they had to say.
(All interviewees were granted anonymity.)
“I think it’s a brilliant competition and players love it, but both the players and the competition were disrespected a bit this year. It’s not fair to expect them to be playing into December and possibly January. It’s too much to ask. There are player welfare issues there.
“There’s a disconnect between the East Kerry Board and what the East Kerry Board want, and the players and what the players want. I think the board are quite happy to have this running so late because there’s less going on and there’s more coverage of it, but they’re totally overlooking players as people.
“Players have a lot of other commitments and I think they’re being overlooked by the board.
“The other element is that it’s a 12-month season. There’s no break, and there’s burnout both mentally and physically from it. I find it very difficult at this time of year because pitches are heavier, days are darker, the weather is shite. It’s not an enjoyable time to play.
“I’m very surprised the O’Donoghue Cup wasn’t sorted out this year. Last year the board implemented a ‘next available date’ policy and because of that a number of clubs didn’t want to play certain weekends. But the board held a hard line and basically said, ‘This fixture is made, if you’re not going to play you’ll be thrown out of the competition and you’ll be fined’.
“The Crokes were thrown out and I don’t think that was fair given what they’ve done for the competition over the last few years.
“This year there was a complete change because of the East Kerry team. East Kerry were in the County Championship and while they were involved, any O’Donoghue Cup games involving players in the East Kerry team were not played. There were plenty of free weekends and they weren’t taken.
“With the way that the calendar is in Kerry, where we have more competitions than any other county, the East Kerry Board couldn’t afford to be letting free weekends go and expect to have the O’Donoghue Cup finished at any sort of a decent time.
“I think there could have been O’Donoghue Cup games played before the County Championship started and also in gap weeks during the County Championship. I know if you’re East Kerry team management, ideally you’d like to keep guys together in those off weeks but there’s a bigger picture there in terms of getting the whole thing finished by the end of November or something reasonable like that.”
“You want a set time for games; April was brilliant for us. Somebody asked me to go on a stag next April and I said I can’t, because I know for a fact that we’re playing Club Championship for three or four weeks in a row. And that’s set.
“November and December should be time that you’re able to go away with the lads. That’s what frustrates fellas; waiting around on a Saturday or Sunday and not knowing what’s going to happen next week. It’s cruel on players, really.
“Crokes always, in my eyes, hold the East Kerry Championship to ransom because they’re in Munster and they can’t play their games. Everybody else is pissed off then. There must be a better way.
“The Super League is just a series of glorified challenge games. Maybe they should try to play two games of East Kerry Championship just before April instead.”
“It’s a disaster. They should be trying to play off a few rounds of it early – during the summer or before the summer. There are plenty of weekends off to play it. It’ll end up now, as it always does, with the clubs having hardly any pre-season.
“The pitches are poor at this time of year. You’d want to be finished by the end of October, not to mind having to go after Christmas. They need to do something about it.”
“I think the season is far too long as a whole. It’s 11 months and it needs to be more compact. Whether that means games being played midweek or earlier in the year, I don’t know. But it’s dragging on way too long.
“It’s unfair on players and on management. I understand that Crokes going far is stalling it but there has to be something done about it. The people involved are putting their whole lives on hold for an amateur sport, and they’re getting grief then if they’re not doing well.
“I don’t know what the East Kerry Board’s thoughts are. Is it because they’d be losing money (if the games were played midweek or earlier in the year)? But the players have to come first.
“I’d be all for (playing O’Donoghue Cup games instead of Super League). Let’s be honest, the Super League is a pre-season tournament. It’s a warm-up. Teams can play friendlies any day of the week; Super League is only taking up weekends.
“Maybe it might not fit into Crokes’ schedule when they’re likely to be playing the All-Ireland series into March, but sure they opted out of the O’Donoghue Cup last year because it wasn’t fitting into their schedule then either. Something has to change and teams are just going to have to grin and bear it.”
“It’s down to the people who are making the fixtures, the East Kerry Board. They have to make a compromise and put some midweek fixtures into play, and bring some of the games forward.
“It’s hard to get motivated at this time of year. Take Rathmore for example. They played Friday night against Spa and that was their first game out in seven weeks. Now they’re waiting around for another five weeks to play again. It’s hard to stay at the top of your game. You’re hanging around in the winter months when you’d like to be doing other activities. From a player’s point of view, it’s certainly not ideal.
“I think every player will be happier if they make the season shorter.”
“My team is already out of the championship so it doesn’t really affect me personally, but if we were still in it I’d think it’s a disgrace. We started training at the start of January this year – some teams started in November/December last year. If we were still in it going into Christmas I think my team and I would be fairly sick of it!
“At the end of the day, it’s an amateur sport but you’re sacrificing things in your life, almost like you’re a professional player (weddings, parties, holidays etc.)
“Maybe playing (some O’Donoghue Cup) at the start of the year could work, but having East Kerry Championship before Club Championship starts might not be a great idea as teams peak at different times. They might want to focus totally on one competition rather than two important championships so close together. But it’s definitely worth trying!
“I think Super League should be scrapped though. My club are finished for the year and aren’t training, but we still have a game left in the Super League and if we win that (if it’s even played) we still have another game left! Super league games are just like challenge matches really and are just there to experiment with tactics and to give players a chance to show themselves.”
“It’s different for us (Dr Crokes) because if we manage to win the Munster final, our season will be carrying over into next year and we’ll be training anyway. So personally I don’t really care about playing up until Christmas. I think we’re just used to it at this stage.
“But I can see it from other teams’ perspectives. Some teams played their last game in August/September. I understand that they’re training for eight or nine weeks in a row with no games.
“Our situation is different. Two weeks ago we were talking and we realised that if we won all our games, we’d have eight games before Christmas. People get tired. But we haven’t won the O’Donoghue Cup in four years so it’s not something taken for granted in Crokes. We were available to play the Fossa game earlier in the year but the East Kerry Board pulled it.
“Even if they scrapped the Super League and gave fellas January and February off, you’d have a chance to go away for a couple weeks at the start of the year.”
What do you think? Does something need to change? Join the conversation today by emailing email@example.com or tweeting @AdvertiserSport or @AdamMoynihan.