Pressure builds on GAA to deliver fixtures overhaul
CLUBS in Roscommon have formally called on the GAA to carry out a full review of all county and club fixtures. The request was adopted at a meeting of Roscommon County Board last week.
The board is now seeking to have the matter raised at next month’s Central Council meeting.
A submission from the national Central Competition Controls Committee (CCCC) on a second-tier football championship is also expected to be aired at that meeting. Roscommon’s proposal is that a committee of “appropriately qualified people from both within and outside the GAA” should be set-up “to conduct an overall review of the national games programme”.
Tommy Kenoy, who rose to prominence for the role he played in the abolition of Rule 42 to allow soccer and rugby be played at Croke Park, proposed the motion to Central Council at last Monday night’s board meeting. The GAA, he told the Sunday Independent, has been trying to fit “round pegs into square holes” with its fixture programmes, adding that club players are being ignored.
The Kilmore clubman has been part of a committee in Roscommon which was examining the fixtures scene in the county. “We discovered,” he said, “that you can’t solve the local problems until we fix the national situation first.”
A survey of inter-county players has indicated a softening in opposition to a second-tier championship in football. But Kenoy believes the Roscommon proposal must now be given priority. He says any further changes to the championship structures in football or hurling at the moment is only applying “sticking plaster” to the problem.
And this weekend, the Club Players’ Association (CPA) has reiterated its call for the GAA to go back to the drawing board. The Association, which represents thousands of club players, has been calling for a ‘blank canvas’ approach to football and hurling fixtures.
“We cannot support a tiered championship unless there is a complete overhaul,” said CPA chairman Micheal Briody. “It cannot be another incremental change and for it to be acceptable it has to be part of a master fixture plan that includes designated club periods.”
Kenoy, who was part of the review committee in Roscommon, said he had been taken aback at the depth of feeling in the county at the lack of meaningful club games over the summer months.
“The big point coming through was that the feeling is that the GAA is becoming a corporate, elitist body and there’s a big disconnect between the hierarchy and the grassroot,” he said.
The survey of inter-county players, carried out by the Gaelic Players’ Association, also found that they would welcome more championship games for county teams.
“There cannot conceivably be any more championship games in the summer for inter-county players as the club pitches are empty and bereft of any meaningful matches throughout the summer,” Briody told the Sunday Independent.
My question is this: what exactly is the ‘players’ voice’?
There is general agreement that the inter-county fixture list is heavily overloaded. While there is a fairly well defined pattern of dates for major games, many fixtures are made on an ad hoc basis. The large number of inter-county fixtures reduces the number of Sundays available for club games and a county’s success often militates against a continuous programme of club games. Report of the GAA’s McNamee Commission, December 1971
IF ever you needed clear evidence of the growing split between club and county in the GAA, then it came last week. On one hand, a room full of club delegates gave their county board permission to push the GAA to urgently address the fixtures crisis; on the other, county players made it known that they are open to playing more games.
In Roscommon on Monday, the county board decided to send forward a motion to the next Central Council meeting calling for an urgent review of the national programme of games at county and club level. Tommy Kenoy, who many will remember for his role in the abolition of Rule 42, was a member of that committee and he proposed the motion at last week’s board meeting. It was seconded by Sean Kilbride, the former Mayo footballer.
“We want a committee of suitably qualified people to examine the whole situation,” Kenoy told the Sunday
Independent. “We want equality — we want the club and the county to be treated equally.”
The Club Players’ Association has been arguing for a “blank canvas”, for the fixtures schedule to be redesigned from scratch. Micheal Briody, the CPA chairperson, says it is the only way forward for the GAA. He says they support Roscommon’s stance and are hopeful the Central Council will agree to hear the motion at next month’s meeting. There have also been reports that a two-tiered championship for football will be discussed at the same meeting but Briody says that will only paper over the cracks.
The CPA argues that any discussions on changing the football championship should be put on hold until the entire fixtures situation is resolved. Kenoy agrees, saying it would “just be a sticking plaster” to make changes now without looking at the bigger picture.
A few days after the Roscommon board meeting, the Gaelic Players’ Association published the main findings of its latest player survey.
It’s hard to know which was more alarming, the findings or the comments issued to media outlets attributed to the GPA’s latest chief executive Paul Flynn. (To lose one chief executive may be considered unfortunate, to lose two seems careless.)
Inter-county players said they would like to see more championship games in the summer. We know that inter-county players are operating in a bubble, but it still comes as a surprise that they are so far removed now from the grassroots of the Association — and the friends that they grew up with in their clubs — that they would like to have more county games in the summer. This would be at the expense of their families, friends and neighbours. It hammers home the point, emphatically so in fact, that when you take players out of their club environment and cosset them in a county setup, they lose all sense of perspective about what the GAA is supposed to be about. The community ethos at its heart is being diluted all the time.
In these pages last week, Kilkenny manager Brian Cody lamented the fact that club pitches are lying idle in the summer months, a point echoed by Kenoy. It’s an observation which resonated with many.
Which brings us to Flynn’s remarks, which are worth repeating because they show definitively what the GPA’s ethos really is.
“The fixtures conversation is an important one and players are at the heart of it. We wanted to hear the players’ experience of the 2018 season so that we could bring it to the attention of the GAA and push hard for player-centred change. We now have a strong mandate from our members to demand real and meaningful change to the fixtures schedule to allow players to better manage the intense demands of the modern game. We all want to ensure that the game flourishes into the future. It’s essential that the players’ voice is heard and respected by the decision makers in the GAA, and the GPA will be focused hard on ensuring that this happens.”
My question is this: what exactly is the ‘players’ voice’? Are we talking about the very small number of players who make it to inter-county level or are we talking about all players? The answer, of course, is obvious. The GPA has only ever been interested in one group of players and, in fairness, has never made any apologies for that.
The real truth at the heart of this survey lies buried: players want more games in the summer with the county team, and they also want a more defined off-season, more time to recover from their exertions with that team. So we have the county season, and the off-season . . . but what about club games? What about the club players sitting at home waiting for the county board to fix them to play three games in seven days after having 10 weeks off ? Sure, who gives a shit about them? That’s the message here.
If the GAA is serious, and if the GAA is prepared to acknowledge the scale of the problem it now faces at club level, then it cannot give any credence to this GPA survey. It should be ignored.
Rather, it must listen to what those on the ground are saying. Even Tommy Kenoy admits to having been taken aback at the scale of the disconnect between those involved in clubs in Roscommon and the GAA at national level. He and others spoke to many people in the county after being tasked with looking into problems with fixture-making in the county. “We discovered that you can’t solve the local problems until we fix the national situation first,” he said.
The only area of common ground that appears to exist now between those representing club players and those representing county players is on the need for some kind of committee to review fixtures before any more changes are made. The GPA admitted last week that it was in favour of this next step. “We have already demanded the task force that the GPA have asked for so now 100 per cent of the playing population is demanding it,” says Briody.
You have to wonder what it’s going to take for common sense to prevail. It is sometimes portrayed that the growing anger over the lack of club fixtures is being overstated. The fact is that it’s not; it’s a problem which is a very real threat to the GAA.
It’s hard to believe, almost 47 years later, that those words from the McNamee Commission report — which at the time was a very serious root and branch look at the GAA and the challenges it faced — could just as easily have been written today.
Micheal Briody says the CPA supports Roscommon’s call for an urgent review of the national programme of games at county and club level