Marathon theme for Meath teams in club championships

Story by Conall Collier

Thursday, 4th April, 2019 7:00am

Marathon theme for Meath teams in club championships

Summerhill manager Declan McCabe is not a fan of the three-month gap between phase one and phase two.

Marathons could be the theme for the club football championship action in Meath with the start of the exchanges on the same weekend as that great horserace the Aintree Grand National.

The Aintree showpiece could also produce a winner from the Royal County with Gordon Elliott's Tiger Roll going for a double and Tony Martin's Anibale Fly likely to feature prominently.

Elliott is also the sponsor of last year's beaten Keegan Cup finalists Summerhill.

However, this will be the last marathon-style GAA club football championship and from 2020 it will (possibly) resemble a sprint (flat race of five furlongs).

For the clubs in 2019, the first circuit that will feature two obstacles in April will be all about survival and staying in the race - that opportunity will be presented this month.

Unlike the gladiators at Aintree next Saturday, the Meath clubs will then be able to take a break of up to 13 weeks before facing three more obstacles on the second curcuit.

For 2020 the challenge for the legislators will be to condense the fixture schedule and that will be helped by the old-style four teams per group format that will be introduced across all championships in which first teams will compete.

At the helm for Summerhill footballers this year is the Keegan Cup-winning manager of 2013 Declan McCabe who guided the club to a 1-13 to 1-10 victory against Na Fianna.

McCabe is not a big fan of the current SFC format, but the big issue is not the amount of games in each group.

Instead, it is the gap between the opening phase and the second phase of championship action as he explained to the Meath Chronicle.

“It's still the format where you play two games in April and then three months later you start again,” he remarked.

“I'm not sure what team will be championship-ready in April, to play a first round this weekend and 10 days later play a second round.

“Those early games with a gap like that before the next action is not much good for anybody.

“The people on the fixtures committee have a difficult task and I understand that, but the four-team groups that will come in next year could be helpful.

“I think playing the games over a shorter period is more intense and that will produce better quality football and that in turn will benefit the clubs and the county team.

“People make plans when they see a fixture calendar with a big three-month gap in the middle and some of those plans might not include football in that period.

“That's where we are all suffering in terms of the quality of the football.

“The championship doesn't need to start in April and I think teams would be better prepared to play championship if the games were closer together.

“By next August most of the teams may not actually remember who they played in the first round or the second round in April.

“It seems like a big rush to get the games out of the way, we already have six league games played by mid-March and now the target is to get two championship games out of the way.

“It looks like a box-ticking exercise and that is not really of any benefit to anyone,” he added.

And what are the prospects for Summerhill in 2019?

Will they make it to the final again, for a third year in-a-row?

Can they lift the Keegan Cup in 2019 for the first time snce 2013?

“We have a lot of work to do, we have a lot of young players and you can't micro-wave experience,” he 

“We have to work on that, we will need players to remain injury-free, it's a mater of getting through the first two rounds and then see what state we are in for three months down the road,” he concluded.

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