Four potential milestones on GAA’s journey through 2017
This year may well see significant progress on the association’s most troublesome issue
Championship blueprint drawn up by GAA director general Páraic Duffy is only game in town for significant reform. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Maybe it’s just because the beginning of every year is meant to carry the promise of the future rather than the accumulated weight of the past that there is a temptation to view early January as the springboard to great things. A Memorable Year.
Teams, we are told, do it all the time: decide at this point that the coming months will be significant for them and if such determinism has any effect, maybe it will for some but not by definition for all. It doesn’t matter: the quotes look resolute and mystically prophetic when a team does well; no-one remembers when they don’t.
Can we anticipate great years or do they only form in retrospect, taking shape in the rearview mirror of late December when affairs are put in annual order?
Here are four items relating to the apparently endless club fixtures agenda that can have an impact in 2017. If they all do, the year will go down as especially influential. As a disclaimer it should be pointed out that this doesn’t often happen.
Club Players Association (CPA)
The CPA launch on Monday wasn’t merely a reflection of the belief that if you launch a selection of dog blankets in county colours at this time of the year, all the media will turn up, sighing and world-weary perhaps but grateful for the work.
It marked at the very least a further raising of the profile of a problem that has been occupying the GAA for decades and a further pressure point towards the devising of a solution for inadequate fixtures’ programmes all around the country.
Instinct suggests that the issue might be staying power. Can clubs organise and more importantly persevere to make sure their respective county committees produce acceptable schedules?
Influence at national level and interesting proposals are all very well, but think of all the imaginative and well-articulated ideas that have been shot down at congress in years gone by. The only motion of immediate relevance to the CPA at congress is the one from Wexford, to confer official recognition on the association.
There are no clear indicators how that will go, even if you’d like to assume that the good intentions of the organisation should attract the approval of congress, but it took 11 years before recognition was conferred on the GPA at the 2010 congress.
The association may have formed at an opportune time, though, with the GAA administration ready to focus on a major reform that would be truly historic and create additional space for the club fixtures agenda.
The Duffy proposals
Although the CPA were at apparent pains a) to argue that the championship reform blueprint drawn up by GAA director general Páraic Duffy didn’t go far enough in one respect – bringing forward of All-Ireland finals – and b) to suggest obliquely that the idea of round-robin All-Ireland quarter-finals would be an unwarranted thickening of the intercounty calendar in August, the proposals are the only game in town for significant reform.
It has been spelled out by Croke Park that the new championship format can only be introduced hand-in-hand with the vacating of September by the All-Ireland finals after more than a century of tradition.
If that happens – and the signs, if not overwhelmingly positive, are justifiably optimistic – the revised calendar will free up a substantial amount of additional time for club fixtures.
That would be an undeniable improvement, especially when combined with the already-taken decision to limit the impact of the fixture-maker’s biggest enemy, multi-eligibility, by narrowing the age categories that can participate in senior club activity and confining the intercounty under-21 football championship to a development grade.
Caution in this case relates to the fate of the same proposal when Duffy brought to last year’s congress in Carlow – failure by five per cent to secure the necessary two-thirds majority.
The idea that club fixtures should run on the basis of a calendar year has been given a boost by the foundation of the CPA. The proposal has been floating around a twilight world of committee and work group without any determination being reached.
Originally advanced by the second report of the football review committee in 2013, it was backed by Duffy at congress two years ago and agreed in principle by central council, which established a work group to examine how it might best be implemented, which was done.
In the past 18 months, however, the humour appears to have gone off central council and keeping the calendar year in the basement has been deemed better for the business of seeing through the championship reforms, which if passed would greatly facilitate the idea.
The CPA are in favour and the association’s grassroots co-ordinator Aaron Kernan questioned the current situation, which can require clubs to wait around up to three months to play just one match. He also gave a vivid illustration of the impact on his career by estimating that his club Crossmaglen’s frequent forays into the All-Ireland championship cost him about half of his intercounty career.
If Duffy’s proposals get the green light next month, the calendar year will follow.
There is a motion to congress to reduce the weighted majority for rule changes from two-thirds. This surfaces from time to time, generally in the wake of some much-reviled decision, like last year’s failure to secure the necessary votes to curb replays and bring forward the intercounty All-Irelands. It brings in its wake considerations of how effective congress is.
At the CPA launch, former Wexford manager Liam Griffin described the GAA congress as “old order” and asked “do we need a new world order? We’ve got to bring change at a faster rate”.
Were anything to happen on that front, we can tell our grandchildren about it.