Limited time meant knock-out football championship the only option
By John Harrington
The GAA’s Director of Player, Club and Games Administration, Feargal McGill, says there was simply not enough time left in the playing calendar to have facilitated All-Ireland football qualifiers or the new second-tier championship, the Tailteann Cup, in 2021.
The entire 2021 inter-county season as announced yesterday in the revised Master Fixtures Calendar will be played off in a 20 week period to ensure the months of September to December inclusive are ring-fenced for club action.
And McGill admits that meant there was no other option but to go with the same knock-out Provincial and All-Ireland SFC structure that we also had in 2020.
"You needed another three weeks - it's as simple as that," he said when asked was much consideration to the inclusion of All-Ireland SFC qualifiers in the calendar. "Otherwise, you would have been cramming games on top of each other.
“There were two things that influenced it. You were going to have to take that time off the club season which you didn't want to do or you were going to have to shorten the league season further.
"To the vast amount of counties in football, the League is the more important competition. There were three things up for grabs - the qualifiers or Tailteann Cup or the other two, which was to maintain the number of games in the league and then protect the club window. That's what it came down to. I wouldn't say it was close.
"We felt the end of August was the latest we could go to with the inter-county. Could you have squeezed them a little tighter? I'm not so sure. But you also have to remember you have to look at players as well and look at the fact you can't just churn them out and whip them for a period just to have a nice-looking championship."
The inter-county season will end on the weekend of August 28/29 when the All-Ireland Football Final is due to be played, but counties who exit the football and hurling championships earlier in the summer can begin playing their club championships before September if the Government allows it.
"That is a matter for each county,” says McGill. “As soon as the government relax, give us permission to allow clubs begin training we are not going to hold anyone up.
“Once the government gives permission it is up to counties to draw up their own fixture programmes."