IT’S NOT A fresh complaint but Darren Hughes is the latest player to row in behind the call for change in the GAA calendar.

The two-time Ulster medal winner has witnessed how prolonged Gaelic football seasons can be through his demanding schedule with his county Monaghan and club Scotstown.

He didn’t finish up in 2016 until mid October when Scotstown were knocked out of the Ulster club championship by Kilcoo and in 2015 it was late November when the season was halted after a provincial final loss to Crossmaglen.

Hughes wants the current system to be changed, pointing to the situation facing the Dublin and Mayo players last year as an example of how successful teams are not being rewarded.

“The calendar needs to be scrapped and looked at from scratch again. It would have to be a bad scenario for me to be against it.

“I’d definitely be all for change because if the current template was put down in front of anyone, and went to Congress to be passed, it wouldn’t get through a county board meeting.

“It would just be thrown out straight away. I just think the GAA calendar needs (to be) wiped (out).

“There is nearly no reward for being successful. You look at the All-Ireland final, (it) went to a replay last year.

“Where was the reward for Dublin players having to go out six days later or Mayo having to turn around six days later after losing an All-Ireland final? I can only imagine what that is like.

“It’s tough on the player to have to do that. You feel you’re letting down your clubmate, your friend, doing that ultimately if you don’t go out.

Darren Hughes and his Scotstown team-mates lost the 2015 AIB Ulster senior club final after extra-time.

Source: Presseye/Declan Roughan/INPHO

“They’ve been training all year, not knowing when they’re going to be playing. Players have to live too. It’s tough.

“(I’m) all for change, condense the calendar. Ultimately we’d rather play more matches than train. Tighten the whole thing up. Less training would suit us a lot better.”

There is the potential for change on the horizon with GAA Director-General Páraic Duffy – a Scotstown club man like Hughes – bringing forward a series of motions to annual Congress next month:

  • Extra-time instead of replays in championship games
  • A new round-robin format for the All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals
  • Bringing the date of the All-Ireland senior finals forward

On the potential revamp for the last eight of the football championship, Hughes is conflicted as he sees merits and flaws in it.

“It’s probably guaranteeing that the top four teams will be in the All-Ireland semi-final. You can get caught once but you’ll redeem yourself.

“You put a lot of work into that one game, and the reward is an All-Ireland semi-final.
Where would Tipperary be if that was the situation last year? Would they have won two games in a round-robin situation? Who is to know?

“I suppose by right, the best four teams should be in it. But every team goes in every season on the off chance that there’s one surprise.

“We’ve played three. Lost to Tyrone twice in derby games (in 2013 and 2015). Got hockeyed by Dublin (in 2014). It’s a sucker punch.

Darren Hughes was part of a Monaghan team beaten by Tyrone in the 2015 All-Ireland quarter-final.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“I suppose the flip side of that is we would have had another day to go back and prepare.

“Whereas you’re beaten on the August Bank Holiday weekend and you have to wait until next May to redeem yourself. You’ve a lot of work to put in to fast forward 12 months to get to that situation again. It’s a Catch 22. There are pros and cons.”

The shock nature of Monaghan’s championship exit last year to Longford means a shot at redemption will be a goal in 2017. Hughes refused to use as an excuse, the grueling two-game saga with Donegal in Ulster prior to the Longford encounter.

“I think that is too easy an excuse, Donegal went to play an Ulster final the week after that.

“My personal reflection on it was – people say we took our eye off the ball – but we prepared for that game the same as any other game.

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Monaghan lost out by three points to Longford in Clones last July.

Source: Presseye/Andrew Paton/INPHO

“We made a few changes to freshen the thing up, but Longford came with a gameplan. We could still be there and we wouldn’t beat them.

“That day they were kicking them over from everywhere, we had no answer to what they threw at us.

“Some days you just have to take that on the chin and congratulate the better team.”

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