It should have been a week of celebration and reflection for GAA supporters in Mayo, but it turned out to be something much different from Monday morning on. Mayo's progress to the All Ireland final through the qualifier system has thrown a spanner in the works of the club player and once again they are the ones left kicking their heels as the summer winds down, having played just two rounds of championship games so far.
There have been plenty of people hitting out at the county board for the scheduling of a round of club championship matches this weekened, but it is the GAA calendar that is to blame really for this, imagine how much more congested it is going to become for successful counties if the three game quarter-final series that was recently proposed is brought in. The games have been postponed and that is probably the right decision, but you have to feel sympathy for the club player and especially a club player who is part of a team that might have serious ambitions of going all the way to a Connacht and All Ireland title after the conclusion of the Mayo championship.
There has been a lot of comment online that Dublin only play one round of championship games before calling a halt to them until they are done playing football on the inter-county scene. This is true, but Dublin play a knock out championship, where a club player is only guaranteed one championship game in the premier competition all year long. And Dublin are in the fortunate position of being able to play club games midweek if needed, that is not the case in Mayo, where you cannot be expecting club players who come home from Dublin, Cork, Galway, or the UK and further afield, to do their best for their local community and club which is the bedrock of the association. Never mind the costs that clubs and players bear to get guys home for games and they are then called off.
In Mayo everyone will get three games of championship football and most will see championship action at least four times, be it in either the quarter-finals or the relegation play-offs, while the league runs through the summer, it is instantly diluted by the absence of county players through a number of shared rounds, and how are a team to prepare and plan if they are going to be missing their best player or in some instances four or five of their best players? Is it not better to have club players playing three or more games in the top competition in the county, rather than just one which could be back in April.
Whatever decision the county board made this week they were going to get hits from either side, it is not a position they wanted to be in or the Mayo senior players or management wanted to be in, they are all club men at the end of the day and just want the best for everyone. But with an All Ireland senior title up for grabs, probably the right call was made to call the games off until after the All Ireland final on September 18.
But we have got to hope that from then on everything runs smoothly on the club scene, because a draw here or there in the knock out stages, or another fixture pile up with Mayo's representatives due to take part in the Connacht Club Senior Championship on October 30, means that there are just five weeks to fit in one round of group games, the quarter-finals, the semi-finals, and the final before the Mayo champions enter the Connacht series. A draw in any of the knock out games could see that deadline pushed right up to the wall. When you look at Castlebar Mitchels for example, they have been in two of the last three All Ireland Senior Club Championship finals, if they manage to get out of Mayo again this year, they would rightly believe they have the players and the potential to get back to that level, but having to slog it out over five or six weekends in a row is not going to be easy or ideal preparation for an attack on a Connacht title later this year.
This year in particular it has been a very heavy load of inter county games with Mayo playing in 18 senior inter-county matches, three in the FBD League, seven in the National Football League, two in the Connacht Championship, three in the qualifier series, and now three more in the All Ireland series including the final, when you throw in an U21 run to victory in the All Ireland final and the juniors run to an All Ireland final, the weekend were eaten up very quickly and that is how we have ended up in this situation.