It’s time the GAA addressed the playing needs of ordinary adult club players
A rebalancing of the relationship between club and county teams is urgently required
Loughmore-Castleiney’s Ciaran McGrath and James O’Brien of Na Piarsaigh with referee Cathal McAllister at the coin toss for the Munster club hurling championship clash on Sunday last. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpp
As Irish summers go, the one just past beats most. It had a mid-1990s feel to it. The glorious weather, the scalded brows, the succession of championship upsets, the toppling of provincial traditions and the chiselling of unfamiliar names onto coveted silverware.
For hurling nostalgists especially, the drama and excitement of the championship was like rewinding the clock to what Denis Walsh, in his wonderful chronicle of a decade of sporting upheaval, quite aptly described as hurling’s Revolution Years.
But, of course, the 1990s were revolutionary for reasons other than the reordering of hurling hierarchies.
Developments off the field then were as ground-breaking as those on it. This was the decade, remember, when the GAA, as if in a hurry, would jettison one long-standing principle after another. Most notably, perhaps, rules on sponsorship were relaxed and championship formats, once seen as sacrosanct, were overhauled to provide for more games for more counties in the fine summer months.
Any serious assessment of these innovations can only conclude that they have been hugely successful. Helped until recent years by a favourable economic tailwind, the expansion of the All-Ireland championship with the introduction of the unwieldy qualifier system brought more inter-county action and greater media exposure. And, of course, more games meant more revenue.
And more revenue for an organisation as admirably redistributive as the GAA meant more money to filter down to grassroots programmes and local infrastructural projects.
But the legacy hasn’t been entirely benign.
Actions often have unintended consequences and before the 1990s were out, it was clear that the transformation of the inter-county scene brought with it collateral damage.
As early as 1999, a report from a Football Development Committee decried the negative impact the new inter-county structure was having on club fixtures in many counties. It baldy stated that a “tiny’ number of inter-county players were effectively depriving a huge number of club players of a regular programme of games”.
It might be expected that such a problem, once identified, would be addressed, that remedies might be sought. They haven’t. Not yet anyway. Not seriously.
The harsh truth remains that the plight of the adult club player is, in many counties, nothing short of dismal. And it is contributing to a widespread disenchantment.
In 2012, more than 1000 players took time to complete a questionnaire as part of the work undertaken by the Eugene McGee-chaired Football Review Committee (FRC). The findings, if unsurprising, were alarming.