Seán Moran: CPA approach to championship reform is puzzling
Club association hasn’t been taking any prisoners since it was set up a fortnight ago
The the CPA’s decision to make public their opposition to Páraic Duffy’s championship reform proposals on the day that he launches his annual report might be seen as either unfortunate or aggressive timing. Photograph: Sportsfile
Asked on his deathbed to renounce Satan, the man in the anecdote says: “this is no time to be making enemies”. For an organisation that was launched to unanimous goodwill the newly launched Club Players’ Association (CPA) haven’t been reticent about taking issue with other stakeholders within the GAA.
Despite a welcoming message on its formation from the Gaelic Players’ Association, the latter was described from the top table at the CPA launch as “a disaster for the GAA in general”.
Then for all the courteous acknowledgement of director general Páraic Duffy’s role in recognising their fledgling organisation and his engagement with them, the CPA’s decision to make public their opposition to his championship reform proposals on the day that he launches his annual report might be seen as either unfortunate or aggressive timing.
Duffy didn’t appear unduly concerned during his media conference in Croke Park on Tuesday morning, pointing out that they weren’t his proposals at this stage, having been endorsed and promoted by Central Council.
It can be argued that if they are sufficiently concerned about the proposals, then the timing of their announcement isn’t the most important consideration but from an observer’s perspective it’s hard to work out the CPA’s thinking. After all, some measure of diplomacy might be advisable given that there is another item on the congress agenda that affects them even more directly - motions to recognise their new organisation.
Congress delegates will in some cases be already wary about the prospect of another players’ body setting up - no matter how laudable its aims - without that organisation calling within weeks of its launch for motions to be withdrawn from the clár because they pre-date the CPA’s establishment.
Put another way it’s hard enough to get things through congress without making delegates jumpy.
Under the Duffy proposals the All-Ireland finals would have to be played in August, leaving September free for club activity. But the CPA is already on record as saying that this doesn’t go far enough with association founder and secretary Declan Brennan adding that he personally would like the All-Irelands concluded a month earlier.
The point appears to be that if what are seen as the limited improvement of the Duffy reforms get the go-ahead, driving more radical proposals won’t be possible for a number of years.
Yet is this realistic?
Duffy was sceptical. “They say that if these proposals are passed, there’ll be no change until 2019 at the earliest. By then it could be too late. This needs to be sorted now. If you want to sort it now, why would you park it? The two things appear a little bit contradictory. Now means this year’s Congress.”
A year ago a proposal to bring the All-Irelands forward by two weeks failed to get the necessary majority. It didn’t fail by much, attracting the support of 61 per cent of delegates but for the 39 per cent opposed, the main argument was that the loss of September - described by one opponent as “Gaelic games month in Ireland” - would be a major blow to the GAA’s promotional capacity.
How likely it would be to expect support for effectively vacating August as well is - at best - open to question.
The CPA’s substantive concerns about the actual round-robin format proposed by Duffy for the quarter-finals of the All-Ireland football championship focus on the additional matches even though the format is linked to reducing the length of the season.
That’s a matter for discussion but another principal argument is that the idea is “detrimental towards hurling,” is fairly tenuous when the round-robin format would add just one weekend to the football quarter-finals.
The All-Ireland hurling semi-finals would each be played on the same weekend as a round of football matches but this isn’t unusual - last August, the drawn Kilkenny-Waterford semi-final was the day after a double bill of football quarter-finals without that diluting any of the rapturous reaction.
Anyone present at the launch of the CPA would readily have accepted the association’s bona fides and the clarity with which the impact of the fixtures crisis on clubs was expressed as well as the potential for a well-organised group to help maintain a focus on the situation is obvious.
If there is a reservation, however, it relates to what can be seen as an over-emphasis on the power of Croke Park to remedy this with a top-down policy. If it were possible to effect this, it would have been done by now and a long time ago.
For example, when a raft of proposals went before last year’s congress with a view to ameliorating the fixtures’ problem from the point of view of both burnout and club schedules, it had originated in a survey conducted on Duffy’s initiative of no fewer than SEVEN reports completed in the previous 12 years by an array of committees, work groups and task forces.
At one point during the CPA launch it was suggested that Croke Park be in charge of fixtures for the entire country - something that no amateur sports organisation would be in a position to implement.
In Monday’s statement there was further evidence of this approach in the reference to the proposed fixtures think tank, whose “remit will be to report back within a fixed time-frame with a programme and principles that create uniformity and help county boards who are unfairly often in the firing line.”
It is county boards who are charged with providing an adequate schedule of matches and yet in some cases at the drop of a hat suspend club fixtures. It is county boards who have the power to regulate the season in an optimal or at least more satisfactory fashion - as Aaron Kernan of the CPA explained was the case in his own county of Armagh.
The CPA’s proposed ‘Fixtures Think Tank’ can consult and confer with the GAA to construct a platform of proposals on which counties can base sustainable club schedules but it can only be a template, which will have to be implemented locally.
Ideas at national level have never been the problem; implementation in the counties has. Taking issue with proposed reforms “that don’t go far enough” won’t lessen the need to organise on the ground and confront the problem at source.