John Allen: County players could be given a break

Perhaps it’s time to think about letting clubs get on with things without intercounty stars

The club game could benefit from not relying on intercounty players. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

The club game could benefit from not relying on intercounty players. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

Improbable a suggestion as it may seem, maybe it’s time for some debate around it. Should intercounty players only play intercounty ? No more club commitments or holding up club competitions. Is the time right to begin the debate now that the GAA are, by this week’s financial covenant with the GPA, firmly acknowledging their commitment to the intercounty players’ association and all they stand for ?

Would the club-only player get a much more satisfactory season when the club isn’t held to ransom by the intercounty calendar and the demands of the county managers? Is the GAA doing a disservice to the club player by continuing to prioritise the intercounty senior competitions? The decision to continue with replays in many games is a major issue. Is there a real effort being made by counties to run a club masterlist that they follow? The answer to that is affirmative in many instances but the county boards are definitely hamstrung by the replay issue and on occasion (often enough) by the county manager.

Would the club scene be, diminished, greatly or otherwise by the loss of the county players. Would the attendance at games be reduced, greatly or otherwise, by the absence of the county players ?

The county player is generally very appreciative of his club. But the county player only plays when the intercounty manager releases him. He has two unequal masters.

All that being said, that same player is almost a full-time athlete but then so are many club players who are willing to make most of the extreme sacrifices that his county counterpart makes. Unfortunately the same club players play very few, if any, meaningful games during the summer.

Major gaps

How difficult is it for the club management to build team spirit when they can rarely field a full team in training or league games ? How difficult is it for them to work on tactics when the better/best player is rarely there ? How frustrating is it when a provincial final ends in a draw and the replay is fixed for the following weekend when the club was due to play? How even more frustrating is it when the All-Ireland hurling final ends in a draw and the final isn’t due to be replayed for three weeks?

Second Captains

And what about the knock-on effect for the provincial club championships when replays hold up club championships. Is it demeaning the competitions when the county champions might have to forfeit the honour of playing in, and possibly winning the provincial or national title. Or has happened, on occasion, the county champions of Saturday have to play the first round of the club championship the very next day.

It’s a bit ridiculous suggesting that All-Ireland club competitions could be completed in the calendar year when there are so many variables against it.

Any company would surely place huge value in doing its business efficiently and discommoding large numbers of people (ie club players) would surely be at variance with that. Further earnest debate is necessary and a mindset change needs to be set in motion by those in positions of power. I think the debate needs to happen. “An interested parties” forum to debate the pros and cons would be a starting point. Let’s listen to the club-only player, the intercounty player, the club and county managers, the club administrators, county boards and Croke Park.

There is a whole culture change needed. I’m well aware of that. I’m also aware that money is an issue which often seems to supersede all other variables. The first step though, has to be the engagement with the stakeholders. Once that is done a decision or, at least, a workable compromise might be arrived at. The GAA prides itself on being ultra democratic yet politics often trumps democracy.

There has also been much debate about the training to games ratio. Players are willing to train as often as the club or county managers asks or orders. The club player’s loyalty to the cause and the team will usually trump any niggling doubts he might harbour about the lack of games. It’s a mind conditioning built up over his career. He plays when he’s asked and he’ll change plans at short notice if the need arises (ie an intercounty replay).

The question might be asked how sustainable a situation is this? The answer might be given that it’s always been the way and club competitions get finished and clubs participate again the next year and the draws for the club championships are eagerly awaited and the whole cycle begins again. But could it be better, much better for the most important people: the players and, more especially the silent majority, the club players.

Life plans

Yes the hardcore GAA followers love the cut and thrust of intercounty championship. Yes they love to see the best players performing under pressure on the “big occasions” .

We could still have all that and club competitions that run to a masterlist but without the county players.

Look, it’s just a idea. Outrageous ideas can sometimes lead to rational discussion and often a metaphorical door that we didn’t know existed can lead to a compromise or solution that wasn’t obvious on first viewing.

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