GAA Super 8: Club players live to die another day

CPA recognition motion withdrawn, as Congress fail to grasp reality on the ground

At GAA Congress, the drama steps lightly into the room and goes about its business with humdrum stealth.

History gets made quietly, drumrolls muffled to a whisper. In the space of 40 minutes on Croke Park’s Level 5, the football championship got its second structural change in 133 years and the All-Ireland finals were moved out of September. Just like that, Irish life was altered in a fingersnap.

Time was, there’d be a bit of hubbub around a contentious vote, a row over the counting of hands in the air, an occasional tactical loo visit even. But it’s all computerised now. Everyone has a zapper in front of them and motions stand or fall in the ether. In the silence of a congress vote, you can hear the decades fall away.

What delegates did here was undeniably a big deal. The Super 8 - they don’t like the name but neither do they have a better one just yet - changes the football championship at the quarter-final stage, splitting the surviving eight teams into two round-robin groups of four.

It’s the biggest change in championship architecture since the qualifiers were introduced in 2001 and it passed with 76 per cent of the vote.

You have to understand, this is GAA Congress. Some organisations march to the beat of their own drummer; Congress kidnaps the drummer, wraps him in a roll of carpet, locks him in the boot of the car and marches just exactly if and when and how it pleases.

As a small insight, the debate on changing the level of vote required to get a motion through Congress from 66 per cent to a more manageable 60 per cent featured the following contribution from a Cork delegate. “We feel reducing the required vote to anything lower than 66 per cent is a retrograde step. While 60 per cent is a strong mandate, I think the 66 per cent will ensure that we can retain our core values.”

Just to be clear - a rule suggesting it be made easier to bring about change in a notoriously slow-changing organisation was, in all sincerity, being described as a retrograde step. You only get this kind of thing at Congress. The rule was passed by 70-30, by the by. It will come into effect next year.

The business of 2016 rolled on through the day but the headline motion came early, with the Super-8 idea comfortably carried.

After all the sabre-rattling in the build-up, only two speakers opposed the motion from the floor. By contrast, 13 grabbed the microphone to back it up, a wave of support so strong that president Aogán Ó Fearghaíl was moved to ask, in all fairness, for any other speakers against it. Twice he asked, twice he got silence in response.

Yet 24 per cent of delegates voted against it, 56 of them to be exact. Take out the 11-strong Cork delegation and the head of the GPA, you’re still left with 44 delegates who voted against it but had no interest in explaining why. That’s a lot of dogs that didn’t chance a bark.

Last year’s Congress famously defeated a number of motions aimed at helping club players so everyone was on their best behaviour this time around. Or at least they were being seen to be so. The next motion moved the All-Ireland finals out of September by 78-22, a couple of pillars of Irish culture whipped away with only a couple of speakers from the floor. And they essentially presented it as a fait acompli on the back of the Super-8 motion.

It was a pretty surreal experience to watch. The first and third Sundays of September are so utterly germane to Irish life and yet they were just extinguished here without a backward glance. Nobody suggested finding a different way to make room for clubs and only Frank Murphy of Cork spoke up against it.

And once it was passed, a motion getting rid of replays and adding extra-time to all championship matches except provincial and All-Ireland finals was a no-brainer.

It went through by 91-9 and the delegates all felt very good about the major boost they’d given to clubs across the land.

Meanwhile, out in the world, social media was convulsing. In a not unpredictable development, Congress was painted as being out of touch with the reality on the ground.

Even allowing for the ill-temper of immediacy, that disconnect is something the panjandrums within the hall on Level 5 are going to have to acquaint themselves in the coming months.

Only Nickey Brennan, the past president, seemed to have a proper grasp on this reality - or at least be willing to show it. Later in the afternoon, the motion for recognition of the Club Player's Association came up for discussion and for a while, delegate after delegate revelled in the chance to take a sharpened cleaver to the upstart CPA.

It became obvious very quickly that any vote to recognise them would be heavily defeated.

Brennan took the mic and warned the room that they would be sending out a needlessly confrontational message by defeating the motion, de facto telling the world that they didn’t care about club players. In order to avoid that happening, he suggested that maybe the motion could be withdrawn and that the association could engage with the CPA over the next six-to-nine months instead so that everyone gets a better idea of what they’re about.

It was a Congress solution to a Congress problem. Tipperary withdrew the motion. The CPA lived to die another day. Congress gave itself a round of applause, thoroughly impressed with its own perspicacity.