29 January 2017; The Galway team, back row, from left, Gareth Bradshaw, Cillian McDaid, Seán Armstrong, David Walsh, Fiontán Ó Curraoin, Barry McHugh, Michael Day, and Danny Cummins, with, front row, from left, Johnny Heaney, Paul Conroy, Rory Lavelle, Gary O'Donnell, Thomas Flynn, Declan Kyne and Luke Burke before the Connacht FBD League Final match between Roscommon and Galway at Kiltoom in Co Roscommon. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

(Photo – Galway GAA)

It’s been the talking point since both Galway and Roscommon booked their places in the Connacht FBD League Final last Sunday with a game to spare and now both counties will meet in an ‘appetiser’ this Sunday (2pm Tuam Stadium) before the main event four weeks later. 

The Connacht Council are insisting the game will go ahead as just a round-robin fixture to protect the competition’s ‘integrity’ and that they can’t be changing formats mid-campaign.  Sligo will proceed with their matches against Leitrim and Mayo and 11 games will conclude into the tournament proper.

And this is the problem with this situation.  This is a pre-season competition!  It should be concluded before the season (league) starts and despite the weather, it has provided some intriguing games and given all five counties involved an opportunity to look at new options.

It’s unfair to criticise the provincial board for wanting to maintain the tournament the way they instigated it.  And they did receive positive feedback after dispensing with the third level colleges and proceeding with a round-robin format guaranteeing every team four games.

But after Munster set a precedent in doubling up final round league games with the McGrath Cup Final (Cork vs Clare) and the Munster Hurling League Final (Limerick vs Clare), the Connacht Council’s argument doesn’t hold up.

John Prenty was quoted in the Irish Sun newspaper as saying Galway and Kildare met in a ‘dead rubber’ in 2017 before their Division Two Final showdown in Croke Park.  But this was a completely different situation as Meath were still involved and would have qualified had Galway lost the first day.

However, the argument being put to Prenty and his colleagues is with a compacted season, and no free weekends until March 11th, this is an opportunity to seize the initiative and give both counties a final they desire and supporters a cracking contest in Tuam Stadium (or Dr. Hyde Park) with a trophy on the line.

It doesn’t devalue the competition as they are the two finalists!  Leitrim, Mayo or Sligo can’t qualify and they will play their final games as preparation for their league campaigns.  And all three will have their weekend breather on February 18th.

In a new era where the inter county calendar is being compacted to, competition organisers to guard against player burn out.  With third level championships also commencing, and April bringing club action, forcing teams into shadow encounters ahead of meaningful battles together in the short-term doesn’t make sense.

Yes, if the final pairings weren’t decided, there would be no argument.  But they are and how much extra revenue can the Connacht Council expect to generate on Sunday when families and supporters have bigger days in the immediate weeks that follow (Tyrone, Donegal, Mayo, Roscommon again, Kerry, Monaghan).

The fact is nobody wants two games against the same opposition in the same competition when one fixture has nothing to play for.  Panelists will get a chance to express themselves to managements but county preparations will be hindered when a free weekend could allow detailed work ahead of the summer.

Some die-hards will travel to Tuam on Sunday.  But to witness what?  Galway and Roscommon’s respective assignments in the league against Tyrone and Meath will be to the forefront of Kevin Walsh’s and Kevin McStay’s thoughts.

By the time March 11th comes around, they’ll have played nine consecutive weeks and the wear and tear felt on amateur players will tell.  After being presented with the chance, wouldn’t the Connacht Council benefit from completing the competition now, giving them a more fitting spectacle then being squeezed in what should be a week off that will garner little ‘appetite’ from the participants.