TROU­BLING TIMES

Colm O’Rourke wants play­ers to march on Croke Park

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

IT is gloomy mid-April and the sky is fur­ther dark­ened by the thou­sands of chick­ens com­ing home to roost. The great Ó Fearghaíl/Duffy ini­tia­tive of giv­ing April to the clubs is be­ing shown up for what it al­ways was — blus­ter. This, along­side the Sky deal, the Su­per 8s and the pay­out to the GPA is some legacy to leave the or­di­nary man. Of course, all the other ma­jor decision-mak­ing bodies of the GAA were com­plicit in these de­ci­sions — the blind lead­ing the blind.

Now in the midst of April show­ers, the county-free zone that was sup­posed to be this month has al­ready blown up in the ad­min­is­tra­tors’ faces. Any­body who had even a small hold on re­al­ity knew what was com­ing.

From the be­gin­ning, I have writ­ten on sev­eral oc­ca­sions that un­less it was set in stone that no training or chal­lenge matches could take place then it was all a waste of time. Now the re­ports from all over the country are back­ing that up, even to the ex­tent in sev­eral cases that some county play­ers may play no matches at all with their clubs. As for training with them, well, the dogs in the street knew the an­swer to that one. Those dogs ob­vi­ously don’t bark near Croke Park.

And yes, many county boards have now also shown them­selves to be spine­less. If no county training was cov­ered by in­sur­ance and the county ex­ec­u­tive ruled that all training was off then the prob­lem could have been eas­ily solved. On top of that the county boards in many places could have done what they are sup­posed to do: put on a pro­gramme of fix­tures where all play­ers par­tic­i­pated. It’s hardly rocket sci­ence, but if you re­move for a while the ab­so­lute mess that the cen­tral au­thor­i­ties have made of clubs then the number one force for the destruc­tion of clubs has been their own county boards. You could not make it up.

At this stage it might take a great march by club play­ers to Croke Park, mod­elled on Martin Luther King’s long march to Wash­ing­ton to de­mand civil rights. The club play­ers would be de­mand­ing their civil rights too: a de­fined club sea­son with ac­cess to their own county play­ers. Maybe the of­fi­cials in Croke Park would turn the wa­ter hoses and the tear gas on these demon­stra­tors or maybe there is some­body who could come up with a ‘I have a dream’ speech which would set out a po­si­tion of equal­ity for all in the GAA.

In fair­ness, there are few from clubs who would deny that if the county side were play­ing cham­pi­onship in early May there would be a need to be back training be­fore the end of the month. That is only rea­son­able. But that is a two-way street too.

In­stead, the whole sense of un­fair­ness per­vades all from now on. The league was be­tween equals, with ev­ery­one hav­ing a re­al­is­tic chance of mak­ing progress at their own level. Now it all goes out the win­dow. That came home to me clearly when watch­ing Ca­van and Roscom­mon in the Di­vi­sion 2 fi­nal a few weeks ago. As soon as the match was over Ca­van turned their at­ten­tion to play­ing Done­gal in the first round of the Ul­ster cham­pi­onship in Bally­bofey on May 13.

Roscom­mon, mean­while, have the oner­ous task of beat­ing New York or Leitrim on June 17 to get to the Con­nacht fi­nal. A very short step to the Su­per 8 from there, while the road for Ca­van is full of un­cer­tainty. If Ca­van get to the Su­per 8 it will be a mon­u­men­tal achieve­ment. Is this a fair sys­tem? An­swers on a stamp.

Roscom­mon are very likely to join the big boys’ club in late sum­mer. The May 13 shootout be­tween Mayo and Gal­way is looked on as an Ali v Fra­zier heavy­weight con­test but Ken Nor­ton is wait­ing in the wings and any­one who thinks Con­nacht is a two-horse race is go­ing to get a rude awak­en­ing.

Roscom­mon beat Gal­way fair and square last year and are bet­ter now. They cer­tainly have de­fen­sive is­sues; that was not just ev­i­dent against Ca­van when they let in four goals, it was a prob­lem dur­ing the league.

In­stead, the whole sense of un­fair­ness per­vades all from now on

That league fi­nal against Ca­van was highly entertaining. I thought the days of eight-goal games were only go­ing to be seen in old news reels when play­ers wore caps and nailed the cogs into their boots.

One of the most un­usual statis­tics from the game was that Ca­van scored three goals in the first half while Roscom­mon scored none yet Roscom­mon still led at half-time. They rained over points from all an­gles and dis­tances. Conor De­vaney, Donie Smith and Diar­muid Murtagh will take a bit of mind­ing in the Con­nacht cham­pi­onship — maybe even more so in Croke Park as their style of play is suited to a fast sur­face.

Their an­gles of run­ning, slick hand-pass­ing and ac­cu­racy with the foot will keep any back­line busy but if they come up against one of the top teams and de­cide on an OK Cor­ral-type shootout then they will end up in Boot Hill, the Amer­i­can cow­boys’ burial ground.

One of the big dif­fi­cul­ties for Roscom­mon and nearly ev­ery other county, apart from the top four or five, is player re­ten­tion. For var­i­ous rea­sons many Roscom­mon play­ers opted out last year; some are back and the panel is stronger as a re­sult.

There are var­i­ous rea­sons why play­ers de­cide to jump ship and this is espe­cially true for the cham­pi­onship rather than the league. Some will feel that the league gives the best op­por­tu­nity to win and oth­ers want the bright lights of New York and other cities around the world when it comes to the sum­mer, know­ing that they will miss very lit­tle club ac­tion while they are away.

The new cal­en­dar makes this even more suit­able for county play­ers. The stu­dents can play in the early games and then take off when the qual­i­fiers come around. The GAA have de­vised a play­ing sched­ule which suits the North Amer­i­can mar­ket per­fectly. They may not be able to make a proper at­tempt to sort fix­tures at home but the master fix­tures plan is a huge boost to foot­ball in New York. It will be like a cattle mar­ket in Kennedy Air­port this June.

Some play­ers also leave county pan­els for friv­o­lous rea­sons. I do not know whether they are sim­ply more un­will­ing nowa­days to sit on the bench and serve an ap­pren­tice­ship like they used to.

There is prob­a­bly greater im­pa­tience, while some just won’t ac­cept a bad set-up which years ago may have been tol­er­ated. For what­ever rea­son county pan­els are very fluid. It is in keep­ing with the rest­less­ness of youth and I can­not com­plain as I ad­vise all young teach­ers in my school to take a year out and travel.

It should be the same with county play­ers — they should all be en­cour­aged to go away, and I could think of a few who should get even greater en­cour­age­ment to stay away.

It does no harm to them or to the GAA and they can be sure that club fix­tures will still be as big a mess when they re­turn.

‘I thought the days of eight-goal games were only go­ing to be seen in old news reels when play­ers wore caps and nailed the cogs into their boots’

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