Mayo to face major test on inter-county GAA return
By AIDEN HENRY
WITH the GAA authorities currently planning for the inter-county season return, it seems at the moment that the first games will take place on the weekend of October 17/18.
While this date was more or less widely expected, few felt that this return to action would involve completing the outstanding rounds of the Allianz National Football League.
Judging by the latest thinking coming from the GAA’s Central Competition Controls Committee (CCCC), they are seriously looking at playing round six of the league on October 17/18, with the final round a week later.
From a Mayo point of view, this is not the best news in the world as most expected the 2020 league would be scrapped, which would leave Mayo not having to worry about relegation.
Mayo are in deep relegation trouble going into those final two rounds of the National League, lying second from bottom of the Division One table, two points below the teams above them.
Mayo’s last two league games are away to their arch rivals, Galway, and home to Tyrone. Even if they do win these two games, they are not guaranteed their Division One status for 2021.
So before Mayo can start thinking about their Connaught championship aspirations, they would have two major tests in the league, hoping that should they win these games it would be enough for them to stay in the top flight.
Following the final two rounds of the National League, it seems the CCCC will be hoping to start the provincial championships, with the plan to have the All-Ireland finals (both Gaelic football and hurling) played on the weekend of December 19/20.
Playing the two All-Ireland finals five days before Christmas Day will seem very strange, to say the least, it looks like this will be only option open to them if they are to go ahead with the above plans and finish the championship in 2020.
This could result in Mayo and Galway facing each other in two massive games in the space of a few short weeks. Their league encounter will be vital to both counties, for different reasons.
Mayo need the league points to keep their hopes of surviving in the top flight alive while a victory for Galway (currently top of the league table) would at least guarantee them a place in the league final.
A couple of weeks later they could again be facing off in the Connaught championship final. Mayo will play Leitrim first before a likely meeting with Roscommon in the semi-final (should they beat Leitrim). Galway will be strong favourites to beat Sligo in their semi-final.
The other thing to note, as far as Mayo are concerned, is that all of their games in the Connaught championship will be played away. It will be a tall order for them if they are going to win the Nestor Cup for the first time in five years.
Club v county
No matter how good the GAA is going to plot and plan to satisfy both club and county games this year, there will always be problems.
One that has raised its head concerns who will have access to county players, and when.
If the present GAA plan pans out, all county club championships will be concluded before the inter-county action starts up in mid-October.
Indeed, the hope is that club championships will be finished some three weeks before the inter-county games start up.
However, while the clubs will expect to have their county players available to them fully until their club championships aspirations have finished, county senior team managers will also want access to their players during this period. County managers will feel it will be near to impossible to get their side ready for big inter-county action within a two- to three-week period.
They will just want their squad together much earlier, and this is where the problem lies.
Will the clubs dig their heels in to keep their county players during the club championship campaign or can they come to some sort of agreement with the county senior manager? That's the burning question.
Here in Mayo, I am sure county senior manager James Horan – like all other county managers – will be looking to get his panel of players together for training sessions during the county club championships.
In Horan’s case it would be hard to blame him for this, especially if the GAA authorities go ahead with the outstanding two rounds of the National League in mid-October.
Mayo are in dire trouble in the league and will more than likely need to win their two games against Galway and Tyrone in order to have a chance of staying up.
After the league games it will be straight into the Connaught championship, where Mayo have the hardest draw of all. In order to win the Connaught title they will have to beat Leitrim, Roscommon and either Galway or Sligo. Three big games and all away from home.
When one looks at the Mayo club championships, there will be many senior county players involved right up to the end of championship.
For example, most pundits will be expecting the likes of Ballintubber, Castlebar, Breaffy, Knockmore, Westport, Claremorris and Ballina to be involved when it comes to the knockout stages of the championship. Between them they have plenty of Mayo senior players, and they will want them fully committed to the club championship.
The other side of this problem is that it is going to put a lot of pressure on the county players if there is a tug-of-war between for their services. These players will be right in the middle of this saga, where they are bound to experience plenty of stress and strain.
In order to get a solution, I feel that the Mayo County Board, clubs and the county senior team manager should try and see if they can come to any sort of agreement before everything kicks off. Addressing the problem now could cut out a lot of trouble down the road.
I think county board chairman Liam Moffatt would be wise to try and erase this pending problem and see if a solution can be found sooner rather than later.
If it looks a big problem now, it is nothing like what it will be if the GAA goes ahead with its latest plan.