The GAA is set to tackle its most intractable problem, the associated issues of club fixtures and player welfare. In his annual report, GAA director general Páraic Duffy said that a discussion paper is to be published later this year setting out options for the future.
Already there have been five reports by a variety of work groups and sub-committees looking at related matters but not much has changed.
According to Duffy these groups have “addressed many of the same issues concerning club fixtures, the needs of the club player, inter-county competition structures and player welfare. All of these reports have contributed to an understanding of the problem and persuaded congress to pass rule changes that would produce a more balanced programme of games at club and inter-county level.
“For all that, the feeling within the association is that we have made little substantial progress.”
Describing the status quo as "an unacceptable distortion whereby the vast majority of our players do not have a planned and fairly scheduled set of fixtures, fixed and known in advance" he added that neither he nor incoming president, Aogán Ó Fearghail believe that further proposals are necessary.
“The potential solutions already lie within the five major reports noted above and in proposals made by the Fixtures Planning, CCCC and other committees since 2008.
“It is my intention that my office, in conjunction with our games administration and player welfare section, will produce an extensive paper later this year – based on the wide range of proposals already made – that will draw on all of these proposals and allow the Association to decide how it will address these player welfare issues and the needs of the club player.”
Elsewhere Duffy said that the decision to schedule an American football match for Croke Park on the date that would otherwise have been used for the Kerry-Mayo All-Ireland semi-final replay was "a risk that backfired on us" and he "very much regrets" that "a decision made in the best interests of the Association ended up causing offence to supporters".
In defending the decision, which he says was necessary to widen the association’s funding base, Duffy instances the demands on GAA revenues.
“To take just two current projects: the Casement Park redevelopment will cost the GAA £15 million sterling, and the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh will cost Central Council in the region of €20 million. To that I could add the cost of the redevelopment of Ruislip in London, GAA development at the National Sports Campus at Abbotstown and the National Education and Research Centre at DCU. The list goes on, extending into games development, player welfare, and the development of club and county grounds.
“It is a financial fact of life for the Association that it must put Croke Park to use in the necessity to increase our funding base . . .. .”
In respect of another controversy – the allocation of some exclusive championship rights to Sky Sports –Duffy mentioned the commercial importance of a competitive environment for the GAA’s broadcast rights but said that the arrangement had been a success on all fronts.
“First, with 100 or so live games broadcast free to air, and with the highest-ever level of TV live coverage of our games in Ireland, it seems fair to say that our home-based supporters have not been neglected.
“Second, the quality of the TV coverage and presentation of our games has improved; third, there is a growing interest in our games in Britain; and, finally – and surely this is cause for a little rejoicing – our loyal Irish GAA supporters and members abroad can now follow live TV or internet coverage of many (in some cases, all) of our championship games - which is what the Association set out to achieve at the start of 2014.”
About the black card, introduced a year ago to combat cynical play and calculated fouling, he remained enthusiastic. He said he believed discipline was improving, backing up what he had written in his report.
“Inevitably, too, there was a negative reaction by some to the new rule, but, after a full year of club and inter-county championship football, it is indisputable that the changes advocated by the Football Review Committee have brought the intended improvements to the playing of the game.
“Instances of players being dragged to the ground are now rare, while the body-collide, an ugly and negative foul that marred the game, has been virtually eradicated.”