All politics is local and so are club fixtures
New club players association needs to convince GAA that fixture reform is essential
Kevin Nolan, secretary Declan Brennan, chairman Michael Briody and Aaron Kernan at the launch of the Club Players Association at Ballyboden St Enda’s in Dublin. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
The foundation of the Club Players Association has taken place reasonably quickly – from its mooted beginning last autumn up until Monday’s media launch and the unveiling of the CPA website – but it hasn’t been rushed.
Consequently there was a certain amount of restraint in the responses to reporters’ questions at the press briefing.
Essentially there isn’t a whole lot on the table just yet because the organisation is in the process of drawing up detailed proposals but the direction is clear: a rebalancing of the GAA season in favour of the overwhelming majority who play for clubs rather than at a representative level.
There was much emphasis laid on the “skill sets” at the CPA’s disposal when it comes to devising proposals that might successfully solve a problem that has beset the GAA for at least a couple of decades if not longer. The problem here isn’t so much gathering the expertise to address issues as securing the acceptance of the proposed solutions.
There was a list of all the things t the GAA had managed to achieve while the fixtures crisis remained unresolved but that only underlined how intractable the issue has proved down the years.
Although Declan Brennan, the prime mover behind the association, has been at pains to maintain that the intention is to be constructive in relations with other parts of the GAA, there is no doubt there is the potential for conflict should for example next month’s annual congress not grant recognition to the new organisation.
But club players will benefit from having a pressure group working – probably within the GAA – to find solutions for a long-standing problem. The impact of former inter-county players has been a feature of the campaigning on club concerns.
The CPA has benefited from the input of former Cork footballer Derek Kavanagh, whose eloquent testimony about the preposterous training:match ratio was acted on when he successfully piloted a proposal through the county convention despite top-table opposition even though it was defeated at congress.
Chair Micheál Briody emphasised the health and welfare aspects of the campaign, citing the ludicrous demands placed on players as a result of the rushed execution of local championships held up by the demands of county teams.
At the launch there was also reference to another big concern: the drop-off in playing numbers in which the lack of adequate scheduling is seen as a major influence.
“Why do we not have a fixtures calendar that we can hand to a player?” asked Cavanagh yesterday. “It’s the utmost disrespect. Guys are walking away and what this group is saying is to those that aren’t walking away is that we’re going to represent you. That’s basically what this group is about.”
Former Wexford hurling manager Liam Griffin dropped an alarming statistic saying that, in his experience, just five per cent of the kids he worked with over the years continued to play. Again the attractions of other sports with better organised fixtures schedules play a role in this.
If the current imbalance is causing such problems for bringing players through, it is a further argument for reorienting the system.
The question remains, though: how will the CPA take on the challenge?
One obvious starting point would be to monitor what counties get up to as fixtures programmes are unveiled and as the inter-county season unfolds, bringing the inevitable onset of fixtures being suspended to suit county teams who have advanced in the All-Ireland series.
The question was posed as to whether players would be enthusiastic about the challenge of attending meetings in order to influence fixture-making directly. That’s not certain nor is it certain that the average club delegate acts in defence of such fixtures.
There have been egregious gaps in the summer championship schedules in many counties.
Dublin break for the summer to give county teams a clear run and chief executive John Costello in his 2013 annual report acknowledged that inter-county success had come to some degree at a cost to club players.
They’re not the only county. Where are the club delegates when such schedules are deliberated on?
Central lobbying has a role but the cockpit of these battles is at county board level. Players and ordinary club members have it in their hands to have an impact.
As CPA chair Micheál Briody said at the launch: “Don’t complain; do something.”