Duffy says congress will be called on to make some momentous decisions


Next month’s annual GAA congress will be called on to make “momentous decisions”, according to association director general Páraic Duffy speaking at the launch of his annual report in Croke Park yesterday.

He was referring to the motions tabled to give effect to the proposals of the Football Review Committee to improve the game as well as the blueprint for a new hurling championship, which will reduce the number of counties competing for the MacCarthy Cup while allowing all current participants to play for their place in the streamlined structure.

“The motion in front of delegates is the fruit of sustained reflection,” he says in his report about the hurling proposals, “and it clearly represents a long-term solution, as opposed to another short-term fix.

“I would hope that the proposals, if adopted, will bring about more competitive, streamlined and balanced hurling championships for all inter-county teams, regardless of their level. Most of all, I hope they will stand the test of time and prove to be a lasting and effective solution to the unique issues surrounding the competitive imbalance that exists among county teams at the various levels of our national game.”

Duffy’s report was, however, most trenchant when addressing the proposed reforms of the FRC. During media questioning he said that he was “absolutely supportive” of the proposals, which he described as “a serious attempt to make Gaelic football a better game”.

Reduce fouls

“They want to reduce extensive fouls in Gaelic football, they want to get rid of the so-called cynical fouling, they want to give the high catch a better chance, they want to engender respect for referees, they want to extend the advantage rule to make the game more fluid and enjoyable to watch and they also address the issue of more games for club players. I don’t see how anybody could oppose any of those things.”

He was critical of the tendency to prioritise flowing matches over the application of playing rules. “The last number of years, you have this clamour all the time to let the game run with the least number of fouls being a positive . . . That’s the mantra. But in many cases, that means letting the game run by ignoring fouls.

“There’s something wrong if that’s the way you want the game played – for referees to ignore a certain number of fouls so we’ve a nice, open game. If you do want the open game well let’s change the rules to ensure we have an open game. It’s a problem for a sport or a game if you’re relying on non-application or a deliberate misinterpretation of the rules.”

In relation to the general issue of discipline he vigorously defended the recently introduced restriction on the numbers allowed on the sideline during matches – a move that has caused unhappiness amongst some team managers and their selectors.

“I am more convinced than ever that we must now legislate for such a restriction and extend the regulations recently adopted by Central Council for its fixtures to all levels of the association. It is deeply frustrating that those involved in scuffles or brawls at games have absolutely no awareness of the damage they do to the GAA.

Undo the damage

“That sanctions are later imposed in accordance with our rules does nothing to undo the damage that has been done – the unflattering image of the association and its members has gained ground as a consequence of stupid and undisciplined behaviour.

“I would ask team managers, coaches and selectors to see the reduction in the number of people present on the sideline as a major initiative to improve discipline within the association, and to accept any perceived inconvenience that the new regulations may entail as a small price to pay towards the bigger prize of altering a culture that seriously damages our association

“Managers have to start asking what is good for the whole association and stop looking at the change in regulation and how it might affect them on a match-day basis. The effects are minimal. As I state (in the report), it’s the long-term attitude of the association towards discipline and trying to improve the culture as it currently exists . . .

“It’s the decision of Central Council, it was debated at two meetings. It was very clear at the last Central Council meeting that they wanted to do this and they believed it was in the interests of the association.”

Duffy said that he didn’t accept that restricting medical personnel on the sideline was a problem. “You’ve a choice of putting in one medical person, a physio or a doctor. I’ve been at six or seven intercounty games this year and there hasn’t been the slightest problem. In most games a physio or doctor has been sitting a few rows back from the sideline at the end of a row. He gets out of his seat, goes down to the pitch. I don’t see a problem.”

Director's cuts Other main points from Duffy's report

On International Rules

“The attendances this October, as well as the continued desire of our top players to commit to the game, will be instructive. The lack of a positive response from players or spectators in October will raise a serious doubt about the future of the competition.

“As for the AFL, there appears to be a desire on their behalf to maintain the series. However, the strength of the team that travels to Ireland in 2013 and the engagement of the Australian public with the 2014 series will ultimately determine whether the game has a future, or not.”

On verbal ab use

“In general terms, such behaviour goes profoundly against the spirit of sport; more specifically, it is fundamentally at odds with the principles of our Respect Initiative, which promotes the rights, dignity and worth of each person regardless of ability, age, cultural or ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, or religious belief.

“It would be convenient to convince oneself that ‘sledging’ is the norm in many sports and to accept that the aspiration of keeping our games free of such behaviour is idealistic and unachievable. Such responses will ill-serve the values and image of the GAA.”

On the impact of television on attendances

“We need to encourage people to attend our games rather than to watch them on television. In a recent ESPN poll of fans of NFL games in the US, 41 per cent said they would rather watch a game on television than in the stands.

“Jonathan Kraft, President of the New England Patriots, offered an interesting perspective at a recent technology summit: ‘If we want people to come to our stadium and find it worth the money, we have to figure out how we give an experience that’s different than the experience at home and give you all the comforts of home.’”

On score detection technology

“A significant development in 2013 will be in the introduction of Hawk-Eye score-detection technology for our major games at Croke Park, an innovation that will doubtless attract significant media and public attention. We’re very comfortable where we are in terms of the technology and all that but the motion hasn’t been passed at Congress.

“If the motion is passed wed expect it to be used for the first Championship game here officially. I think it’s the first weekend in June. All going well it’ll be used then.”

On the role of county secretaries

“The decision in 2007 to initiate the appointment of full-time county secretaries was intended not only to maintain high-quality administration . . . but also to underline a new commitment to financial and commercial management.

“These are worthy goals; however, it can be argued that the association did little to provide the new appointees with the necessary skills and training. The decision of Coiste Bainistí in 2012 that it will, in future, favour the appointment of administrators to work alongside voluntary county secretaries seems to reflect a disappointment that the full-time role has not developed as originally envisaged.”

On the responsibility of fixture makers

“It was disappointing to observe that a number of high-profile games in 2012 were fixed for venues that met none of the criteria for achieving maximum attendances. Venues with superior facilities, better seating and easier journeys for supporters were often not selected.

“CCC (Central Competition Control) committees have a responsibility at all levels to select venues that meet the criteria identified in the 2009 research (into the key factors that encourage and discourage attendances at our games). It is no longer good enough that venues are selected on account of politics or traditional practice.”

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