Seán Moran: GAA is entering unfamiliar territory

Historical failure to address club fixtures issue is still clearly a source of anger

The GAA Congress at Croke Park on Saturday: although the opinions ranged against the proposals were shrill, they lacked the consistency to act as a rallying point for any potential opposition campaign. Photograph: James Crombie

The GAA Congress at Croke Park on Saturday: although the opinions ranged against the proposals were shrill, they lacked the consistency to act as a rallying point for any potential opposition campaign. Photograph: James Crombie

 

The GAA has entered unfamiliar territory with the decisions taken at the weekend’s congress. Whereas there was relief and satisfaction that the principal motions for championship reform were accepted on a trial basis, it is hard not to feel that they mark the start of a process rather than a destination.

There were undoubtedly strong opinions ranged against the proposals but, although shrill, they lacked the consistency to act as a rallying point for any potential opposition campaign.

Páraic Duffy, director general of the association, who originated the plan that was adopted by Central Council, appeared a bit testy when asked about the sense of disconnect between players and administrators.

“It’s being driven. I met with the CPA four times, and the first two meetings were extremely positive meetings. We didn’t change the narrative – I have never said one negative thing about the CPA. The strongest thing I said was that I was disappointed they rejected the proposals out of hand.

“I think the people that are writing those things need to look at themselves. I met them four times, and I’m happy to meet them again – the GAA wants to engage. Michael Higgins is a national executive member of the CPA – Michael Higgins is a member – appointed by Aogán and me two years ago – of the central fixtures analysis committee. What are we supposed to do? It’s not being driven by us. You saw at congress –the GAA aren’t looking for a row here.”

The director general was also on solid ground when pointing out that the proposals had been published in August, all of six months ago, as a response to the mood for change in the football championship.

He declined to comment on the call made on Twitter by Wicklow manager Johnny Magee for an “all out strike” by clubs and counties – beyond saying that it was anyone’s right to express their opinions and observing tartly, “we’re not going to run the GAA by Twitter.”

Club anger

Allowing that the firestorm on social media frequently featured all the nuance you’d expect from 140-character articulations, there is nonetheless anger and unhappiness at the historical failure to address the club fixtures issue.

Viewed dispassionately, the proposals make substantive improvements in the club context by transferring calendar space from intercounty to club through vacating September, making replays less likely and ending the championship earlier for all counties.

The players’ associations – CPA and GPA – both supported these measures, so the tumult about the players being ignored was focused exclusively on the introduction of the round robin format to the All-Ireland football quarter-finals. It’s hard to view the addition of eight matches to the schedule in August – for a period of three years – as a watershed development.

What it does signify is that change is on its way. For the first time in the past 20 years of championship experiments and reforms there is genuine open-mindedness about whether the proposals will prove to be a success from the perspective of either the football championship or of club fixtures.

If they’re not, it’s back to the drawing board but in the meantime there will be work done on identifying solutions to the fixtures problem. It’s a process to which the CPA can contribute.

For all that there was an aggression to some of the contributions to the debate on official recognition for the club players’ association, there was also a sincere argument made in support of the motion from Wexford’s Mary Foley, and former president Nickey Brennan perceptively intervened to warn delegates that there was a danger of congress “sending out the wrong message” and to suggest that the motion be withdrawn rather than defeated.

“I would like much more engagement over the next six months, and then by all means come back with a motion next year when delegates know what the CPA is all about. That would be preferable than sending out the message today to club players that Congress voted them down.”

The motion was withdrawn and the applause that followed was, to many observers, more to do with the conciliatory thrust of Brennan’s contribution than jubilation at the motion’s failure.

Hurling

The implications of the decision may well be felt in hurling as well. In response to misgivings that the new format will mean that football stands to dominate the late summer, Duffy said that those concerns may well be addressed.

“We are very open to looking at the hurling structure, very open. There are actually some good suggestions out there, it’s not for me to put them out here today, but if the hurling community – and this is really important to us – if they wish to look at their championship in terms of the number of games they have and so on then we’ll look at that.”

Sixteen years ago, after the qualifier system had been introduced to football, it was extended to hurling the following year.

Immediate attention in hurling will be focused on Galway’s desire to participate at minor, under-21 and intermediate levels. The county’s motion was withdrawn from Saturday’s clár after preliminary discussions on Friday night, and Duffy was confident the matter could be thrashed out.

“We’ve said we will address that issue as soon as we possibly can. There is a lot of goodwill around today over how Galway and Leinster handled that. We’ve said all along that it’s a central council problem to deal with, and we intend to do that.”

Asked afterwards how he felt personally about the success of ideas he had originated, Duffy reflected: “A good decision because we are going to try something. I’m not saying it will work out, I don’t know; we don’t know – but we made a good decision for the GAA. We showed we are prepared to try something. I’m happy we did well by the GAA, that’s all that matters.”

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