The Club Players Association have admitted that they are "disappointed, but not surprised" by the news that Mayo plan to ignore the recommendation that April be restricted to club football only.
A report in the Western People states that Mayo are not planning to release players to their clubs next April, and are instead planning a one-week training camp followed by a three-week block of training ahead of their clash with Galway in the opening round of the Connacht Championship, during which players will not be released for club duty.
This means that Mayo will likely incur the pre-determined penalty for scheduling a training camp during April: the forfeit of home advantage in one National League game the following year.
In October, the GAA announced a new master fixture list which was intended to compress the inter-county season so as to allow more room for club games. These included the playing the All-Ireland finals a fortnight earlier than tradition dictates, and the clearing of April as a month for club activity only. (The GAA have reduced the number of intercounty games played in April from 63 to just two).
The latter was among the proposals brought forward by the Club Players' Association in their national fixtures plan, unveiled during the summer.
Now that one of the cornerstones of their proposals has already been flouted by Mayo, CPA chairman Michéal Briody has criticised a lack of leadership from the top of the GAA. Speaking to Balls, Briody says that this is a result of the GAA's failure to centralise the policy.
It is no surprise to us that this is happening, as Croke Park failed to put the April club month into rule. Even when Paraic Duffy launched the master fixtures list, he said it was up to each county board to put it into rule. What was needed was leadership from the top to say that 'this is a club month, and nobody can break it'.
The GAA agreed to the CPA's proposal that four of the six weeks between the first day of April and the middle of May be reserved for club players only, but the decentralisation of its implementation has left Briody frustrated.
But it is not a rule, it’s only a recommendation as of yet. So if we are going to lead and going to change, we have to be prepared to change the rulebook as well. Many a time, in search of reasons for a lack of change in the GAA we are told, ‘oh, we have to respect the rulebook’. But the rulebook is selectively looked upon. Sometimes they hide behind the rulebook, and other times it is pushed into your face.
What is needed here is a root-and-branch review. Was it really the intention to make April a club-only month? If, on the day it was pushed through, it was left up to the county boards?
We effectively now have 32 different decisions being made on something that should be centrally agreed upon.
Duffy admitted at the unveiling of the 2018 fixtures list that Croke Park would be unable to ensure county players were released for their clubs.
In April, I think you're going to have a lot of league games in counties, giving a regular series of games. The real issue is, will managers let county players play? And that's something that every county has to work out for themselves.
We can't enforce that. That will probably be an issue. But the weekends are there exclusively for clubs so it should make a huge difference.
While April is rarely the preserve of anything but league games in may counties, Briody says that it is an important window for dual counties to run-off some championship fixtures, calling on the GAA to "realise that the clubs are the epicentre of the GAA, and not just talk about it".
Briody says he hopes that this will be made an official rule at the 2018 GAA Congress. Just last month, Marc O'Sé wrote in the Irish Daily Mail that "while it [the April rule] is being done for the right reason, opening up April exclusively to clubs may not work as well in practice as it does in theory", while Colm O'Rourke has voiced similar sentiments on The Sunday Game.
Does Briody fear that their recommendation will be contravened in other counties?
I think it has been said by Declan Bonner in Donegal that it’s not going to work for them, as they are out [in the Ulster championship] early in May, and he wants his county players in April. So who is in control here? Is it the county boards? Is is the intercounty manager? Or is it Croke Park?
Croke Park will tell you that the clubs can control all of this, but they cannot. They do need to stand up, but there needs to be central guidance from Croke Park on this so there is a level-playing field for 32 counties.
As for the specific situation in Mayo, Briody admits that the penalty for the scheduling of training camps has not been a sufficient deterrent.
I don’t know the individual situation in Mayo, and what their finances are. They have obviously sacrificed home gate, that is money that could be used for the clubs in Mayo. In fairness to Croke Park, and the Special Congress, they have put this into rule, that there would be no training camps in this period.
So for someone to blatantly say they are going to do it, is the deterrent strong enough? Obviously not.