GAA inability to stick with decisions falls way short of lovely hurling
Why is it so hard to make and uphold rulings in the association?
The democracy of the GAA can be portrayed as its great strength, but it also creates big obstacles for problem resolution. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
All-Ireland referee David Coldrick was talking about something else entirely when he encapsulated a central, uncomfortable truth about the GAA.
Talking about the challenge for match officials in administering the new football rules, he said: “Once the association gives its full backing to these rules, there’ll be no issue from a refereeing point of view.”
Once the association gives “its full backing”, we wondered? To its own rules? Coldrick elaborated by saying that he expected the enforcement of the new provisions – primarily the black card with its immediate dismissal of players, who may however be replaced – to trigger negative reaction, which in turn would place pressure on the GAA and perhaps undermine its determination to confront cynical play.
He was thinking about the manner in which experimental rules frequently withered and died in the toxic blasts issuing from managers during the trialling period. But he could have been talking about policy making in
general. Why is it so hard to make and
uphold decisions in the GAA?
As a snapshot of the deliberative processes, this weekend’s central council conclave on the format of next year’s hurling league is a thing of beauty.
Less than a year ago a format was agreed and it was made known in the early part of this year that it would be best for the new league structure to bed in unaltered for a few years.
Instead – well, to paraphrase – last month a comparatively radical new idea (in that it penalised certain counties while advancing others) was floated and after the predictable uproar, an ingenious third way was suggested and this will be voted on in three days – together with yet another proposal, from those counties still aggrieved.
The democracy of the association can be portrayed as its great strength but it also creates major obstacles for problem resolution. Having to steer agreement through 32 independent republics or a workable majority of them creates difficulties in an organisation, made up of units some of which unerringly see personal disadvantage in proposals for reform or even necessary change.
The flip side of this is the perpetual impulse to tweak things that have by and large been working. As proponents of the league status quo have pointed out, this year has seen the top-flight division play out so tightly that you could hardly get a bus ticket between any two of the six counties involved; even the relegation play-off went to extra time.
There followed an exceptional championship with high public interest, surprises, history being made by counties, who needed to make it, two blockbuster All-Ireland matches and unexpected winners.