TROU­BLING TIMES

Colm O’Rourke warns GAA: Be care­ful what you wish for

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - COLM O’ROURKE

THE hurl­ing pro­pos­als were last week swept through in the new GAA democ­racy where only a 60 per cent ma­jor­ity was needed. If it was a year ear­lier, when twothirds was re­quired, these pro­pos­als would have been shot down in flames.

So there was great re­joic­ing at the high­est level as this ini­tia­tive came from the top down, not the other way round, as is nor­mally the case. Be­fore I lay waste to this brave new hori­zon, at least I should recog­nise some­thing I have ad­vo­cated for a long time — that this is the way busi­ness should be con­ducted. The Polit­buro in Croke Park are there to lead and county boards can then ac­cept their pro­pos­als or oth­er­wise.

On top of that, there is at least a recog­ni­tion among the hurl­ing coun­ties that one size does not fit all when it comes to run­ning a cham­pi­onship. Hence dif­fer­ent com­pe­ti­tions. In football, the blind still lead the blind and in­stead of three cham­pi­onships there is just Sam Maguire.

That man has a lot to an­swer for. His name alone has such a grip on coun­ties that no logic or com­mon sense seems ac­cept­able. Liam MacCarthy must be rather en­vi­ous.

Any­way, in the bright new era there will be a mas­sive in­crease in county football and hurl­ing ac­tiv­ity in the months of May, June, July and Au­gust. The All-Ire­lands will be played ear­lier and clubs will be given just three months to get their cham­pi­onships started and fin­ished — April, Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber.

First of all, let’s take April. Does any­one se­ri­ously think that club play­ers will be re­leased in April by county man­agers who will be train­ing hard for their pro­vin­cial cham­pi­onships which must now be­gin ear­lier in May? Don’t hold your breath if you are in­volved in a club that you will be see­ing your county play­ers in that month and, by the way, you won’t see them in Fe­bru­ary or March ei­ther as they will be in­volved in the league.

The re­al­ity is that county play­ers will re­join their clubs late in the sum­mer, af­ter their cham­pi­onship exit, when they will prob­a­bly need a break af­ter an in­ten­sive pe­riod of games and train­ing.

The club cham­pi­onship will then be run off in a nar­row time frame with games shoe­horned into a tight win­dow — and if there are dual play­ers in­volved then it is a case of wish­ing a county’s fix­ture com­mit­tee the best of luck on that one.

Coun­ties with a hol­i­day pe­riod built into their cal­en­dars will be do­ing away with that too. Play­ers will have to take their hol­i­days at all other times and if they can’t get off work, then tough.

Some coun­ties who run their club cham­pi­onships on a league ba­sis to give more games to clubs will even now be think­ing of chang­ing the for­mat to re­duce the num­ber of games needed to fin­ish the cham­pi­onship. I can’t think of any­thing more per­verse than the fact that these pro­pos­als, which were sold on the ba­sis of im­prov­ing things for clubs, have the real po­ten­tial of mak­ing them worse — in fact, much worse.

No­body even seems to have de­bated how this will un­fold. The GPA, of course, will go along with the new sys­tem as they are only in­ter­ested in the elite. The CPA are be­ing ig­nored; the hope at the high­est level is that they will just go away and stop be­ing a noisy dis­trac­tion in the back­ground.

So club play­ers will be sold down the Swa­nee again, in both hurl­ing and football. The in­evitable re­ac­tion in many coun­ties is to look for the in­tro­duc­tion of a knock­out cham­pi­onship for clubs, or at least a wa­tered-down ver­sion where clubs would have a very lim­ited back door.

It would speed up the cham­pi­onship and al­low more time for the county team. Strange as it may seem, county boards, whose pri­mary func­tion is to pro­tect clubs and pro­vide them with a mean­ing­ful games pro­gramme, will in­crease the in­jus­tice on those same clubs by hav­ing agreed to these new for­mats.

The ar­gu­ment will be made that clubs will be given more league matches which can be played with­out county play­ers and a knock­out cham­pi­onship can be started in April and then fin­ished when the county play­ers fin­ish their sum­mer cam­paigns on the big cir­cuit. A bit like the Dublin cham­pi­onship now. Even they are chang­ing to pro­vide more games.

Any­way, any­one who thinks this will keep clubs happy must have been born yes­ter­day. What will hap­pen is there will be a com­plete loss of in­ter­est in the club af­ter an early exit from the cham­pi­onship. Play­ers will not be too keen on train­ing for league matches and there will be a rush by the stu­dents to book flights out of the coun­try. At least they will have early no­tice to travel so there will be more painters in Bos­ton, bar­men in New York and con­struc­tion work­ers in Chicago in the next few years.

Clubs may be strug­gling in Ire­land, but they are flour­ish­ing else­where. And the stan­dard of club football and hurl­ing will drop as well, with less train­ing and com­pet­i­tive matches.

What is re­ally needed now, and very badly, is an­other new GAA or­gan­i­sa­tion along with the GPA and the CPA — an as­so­ci­a­tion of clubs. It’s pri­mary job would be to pro­tect the club from ex­tinc­tion and guard it from those who are sup­posed to be pro­tect­ing the same clubs — namely the county boards which have be­come en­slaved to a county team jug­ger­naut which is rolling over every­thing.

If a meet­ing of ev­ery club chair­per­son and sec­re­tary took place in each county, would there be a sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ence in their pri­or­i­ties and the poli­cies at large?

My im­pres­sion is that there would be a mutiny. They would want a de­fined play­ing sea­son, more games with all their play­ers avail­able to them at both un­der­age and se­nior level and a re­duc­tion in the length of the county sea­son.

It’s not much to ask for, as this is what ev­ery pres­i­dent talks about when look­ing for high of­fice. None of those same men have ever said — as far as I can re­call — that the club can not only be ig­nored, but ac­tu­ally walked on once in of­fice. Per­haps John Ho­ran could save the club from our own?

So for­give me if I am not a cheer­leader for these new pro­pos­als in football and hurl­ing as I see only fur­ther harm to clubs com­ing from them. There was great joy among those who were push­ing these pro­pos­als last week at the Spe­cial Congress.

It was a dou­ble vic­tory with the ‘Su­per 8’ in football and a new hurl­ing for­mat.

Those with the smil­ing faces should be care­ful what they wish for.

Club play­ers will be sold down the Swa­nee again – in both hurl­ing and football

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