Derry GAA Chairman John Keenan warns split season will require collective thinking

Returning Derry Chairman John Keenan used his speech at Tuesday's County Convention to call for collective thinking ahead of what he described as the "single biggest departure from anything seen in our lifetimes across GAA fixtures."

Derry County Chairman John Keenan. (Photo Lorcan Doherty)
Derry County Chairman John Keenan. (Photo Lorcan Doherty)

With no positions contested, it was a case of as you were for the Derry County Board in Owenbeg but Mr Keenan warned next season's full implementation of the 'split season' would require every Gael in the Oak Leaf county to work together to come up the best possible solutions.

With the All Ireland hurling and football finals pushed back one week to July 23rd and 30th respectively, 2023 is expect to be the first chance to experience the new format in its entirety and the Derry Chairman warned it may take some getting used to.

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"I'm not an expert on fixtures but I want to make one point about the future of fixtures and fixture planning," Mr Keenan told the delegates, "This split season, as it has come to be known, is the single biggest departure from anything that we have seen in our lifetimes across GAA fixtures. What's more, we haven't actually seen it in action yet.

"Next year the All-Ireland series is radically different, both in structure and timing from anything we have seen thus far. The term split season is bandied about in the media and in conversation often without any realisation for the knock on impact for our own domestic competitions. There literally isn't a weekend free from March to July that county players can play for their clubs any more.

"You might say, well that doesn't matter to me, but it does matter. We are all going to have to adjust the mindsets that we've had if we are going to prosper at club and county level going forward with the current model.

"We have some of the best minds in fixtures available to us in Derry but we need to recognise that the old ways are gone and accept that. These changes aren't of our making but as part of the GAA we need to move together as one association. I urge you to be open minded and flexible and work with our CCC to find solutions for all."

Turning to discipline, Mr Keenan reiterated the continued need for a zero tolerance approach to the abuse of match officials after a season in which red cards rose by 50% in comparison to 2021.

"We've seen enhanced and increasing media reporting of unsavoury incidents in the association in general throughout 2022," he added, "Whether it's the more far reaching means of media compared with previous generations or whether we have an increasing issue, it's hard to tell to be honest."However, what these incidents do highlight is the constant need for a zero tolerance approach to abuse of our officials. We have a responsibility as a collective organisation to ensure that we control the culture at our games. I want to thank all the referees and other match officials who have made our games possible over the season. It’s a cliché at this point but without them, there would be no games.

"I would like to draw your attention to the CCC report that highlights that almost a third of all straight red cards were issued for some form of abuse towards a match official. That's simply not good enough and there's an onus on all of us to eradicate that behaviour from our games. Our games are robust and physical games, and we should not lose that. I note a 50% rise in the total amount of red cards issued from 2021 to 2022. I'm not sure how that squares with the narrative that our games are somehow not as competitive as they once were. But draw your own conclusions from that. Sometimes facts and the pertaining narrative don't sit side by side."

Mr Keenan reported that the county's finances as being in "a good place" despite the current economic climate and paid tribute to a superb year on the pitch for Derry's footballers and hurlers. Rory Gallagher's senior footballer narrowly missed out on promotion to Division One before bridging a 24 year gap to claim the Ulster title on a run that took them to the All Ireland semi-final while Dominic McKinley's hurlers claimed the Division 2B title to ensure promotion.

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"We saw the Derry GAA family at its best this year," added the County Chairman, "Vibrant, young and forward looking, the scenes on the pitch at the end of the game in Clones will live long in my memory as they will for many families. I am particularly mindful of the Henry and Young families tonight. A few days after that final whistle, and being pictured in an iconic photo with Chrissy McKaigue, young Jack Henry passed away at just 5 years of age. The strength of his parents and family circle are inspirational and a reminder to us all to cherish what we have here today and every day."Chrissy McKaigue is the epitome of a leader and I was delighted to see Chrissy and Conor Glass awarded All-Stars for their efforts this year. They are integral to both their clubs and their county. There were minor All-Stars for Ruairi Forbes and Johnny McGuckian, following another successful year for Derry minors. Mark Craig shone for our senior hurlers, picking up a Christy Ring All-Star Award as the team gained promotion securing the Division 2B title.

"I want to thank both Rory Gallagher and Dominic McKinley for their dedication and hard work throughout the season. Together, in all codes, as members of Derry GAA we look forward to 2023 with continued hope and confidence, both on and off the pitch.