The Covid pandemic brought the best out of the GAA, with its altruistic nature on full show.

It also presented the association with a glimpse of what a split season could look like. County men togging out for their club more often than not. Cracking games week after week. No insufferable gaps between games for the club player.

Such was the success that the ‘powers that be’ were dragged to the altar of change. A split season, something that for years they argued was impossible, was suddenly not only possible, but desired by all.

What were those in charge of our games to do when faced with such a resounding swell of opinion? Well, they bowed to change. Or so it seemed.

How does that saying go? ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’

I wonder what it is when you are fooled for the 3,675th time?

We haven’t got a split season, or anything close to it.

What we have coming up this season is a farce. Fermanagh clubs will play their first league game on April 23. Fermanagh senior county team may well play into July. To paraphrase Jim Royle, split season ‘my arse’.

Worse for both club and county

Once again, the GAA has shoved two fingers up to the club player and the club season incarnation we have in store will, mark my words, be far worse for both clubs in Fermanagh and the Fermanagh senior team than anything that has gone before.

First of all a few facts.

1 - Club teams in Fermanagh may play nine of 14 league games without their county players.

2 – County players may play just eight games for their clubs all year.

3 – Fringe county players may play just eight games in total all year, club and county.

Anyone who thinks any of the above is acceptable neither understands the GAA and what its purpose is, nor do they understand the sacrifices that players at both club and county make today.

I should say, on one hand I have sympathy for Fermanagh fixtures committee as they are somewhat being dictated to by Croke Park and Ulster Council.

The first round of the Ulster club this season will be played on October 22. 11 weeks later the All Ireland club final will be played.

This, my friends, is a nonsense. 11 weeks to play six rounds of games? In essence, three months of the ‘club season’ has been set aside for competitions that 1.45 per cent of clubs qualify for. Let that sink in for a moment. That is some tail wagging of the dog right there.

What the GAA has really done with its fixture calendar is force 98.55 per cent of all clubs to play any games with their county players within an 11 to 12 week window. I repeat, ‘split season my arse’.

Now, some people within Fermanagh will say to counter to all of this: ‘but sure we get the club players back earlier if the county goes out early’.

This is of course true, but is a damning case of cutting the snout of yourself in pure spite. Imagine wanting the county team to crash out early? Imagine that lack of foresight or ambition.

And this brings me neatly back to the Fermanagh fixtures committee and indeed the Fermanagh executive as a whole, who’s role it should be to do everything in its power to improve Fermanagh GAA.

Taking the improvement of Fermanagh football as one priority, the starting point of any fixtures plan should be to ensure that as many club games as possible are played with county players available.

This season there is a possibility that over half of club games will be played without county players. I repeat, ‘split season my arse’.

It didn’t have to be this way. With mid-week games, the removal of replays in the championship (except for the final) and a little creative thinking I believe a fixtures calendar could have been created that allowed for county players to be available for the majority of games.

It wasn’t to be and I am sure that there are those reading this who will accuse me of seeing things through red tinted Belnaleck glasses.

Well, whatever you think of that I can assure you I am much more worried about what I see through my green tinted Fermanagh glasses.

This new season will be a disaster for Fermanagh football.

Never been more competitive

For the past two seasons Fermanagh club football has never been more competitive. Derrygonnelly drew twice on their way to winning Fermanagh and then went on to a provincial final in 2021. County players being able to train and dedicate more time to their clubs helped raise the standard of club football. That is not arguable by anyone who knows anything about football.

Our club game suffers more than any other county when our county players are not involved because the proportion of county players on our club teams is more than any other county.

Five or six years of Fermanagh club football under the current proposed format will lower the standard in general. And what do you think the knock on effect for our county team will be? Well, it won’t aid any attempted improvement.

Also, consider the county player at either end of his playing career. What incentive is there for a veteran to stay on and play another year or two when he knows his training and playing time with his club is greatly reduced? Will he hang about? Or, will he devote the best of himself to the club?

Then we have the young fringe player, who perhaps needs a year or two on a county panel in order to attune himself and his body to the rigours of senior inter county football.

Will he hang about, getting very little game time and a handful of games for his club in an entire calendar year? Or will he go back to the club?

These are things our county board needs to ask itself. Every decision, including fixtures calendars, should only be made when we have asked the question, does this help us get better?

However, as I say, the real blame for all of this lies at the door of HQ. The reality is the split season the GAA promised is a farce and they don’t care about the impact it has, especially on weaker counties. We have been sold a pup, again. One last time for the folks in the back, ‘split season my arse’.