Seán Moran: Rumours of war in GAA are greatly exaggerated
Expect players and administrators to make progress on salient issues in Gaelic games
Gaelic Players Association chief executive Dermot Earley. Photograph: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
It goes back a while at this stage. At the GAA congress in Galway in 2000, Donal O’Neill, administrator of the then fledgling Gaelic Players Association, presented himself at the door only to be turned away so smartly he was nearly able to reboard the train that had brought him west in the first place.
A whole stratum of the geological time scale has virtually formed in the intervening 17 years but the weekend showed again that the player-official interface can be tricky. The GPA built its credentials on a couple of bruising struggles in Cork, which saw players win arguments with the county board.
There were also national statements, like the socks rolled down before the 2002 NHL final, or the 15-minute delay before a programme of NFL matches in 2006, but the GAA eventually came on board and addressed grievances about matters like expenses and player welfare.
Ironically one of the architects of improved relations was current director general Páraic Duffy, who had been appointed the GAA’s player welfare manager in the two years before he succeeded Liam Mulvihill and who played a key role in driving the publicly funded player grants for intercounty panellists that eventually cleared congress in 2008 despite a very vocal minority.
Opposition to Duffy’s football All-Ireland and championship experiment was also vocal before last Saturday’s decisive vote but whereas the director general bristled afterwards when questioned about the avalanche of social media outrage he did remark that much of that ‘debate’ had been “angry”.
There are, however, straws in the wind that suggest that relations between players and administrators even at institutional – CPA and GPA – level are salvageable.
Firstly, look at the grievances expressed by both player organisations in their stated opposition to the football championship experiment. It’s not underestimating the unhappiness of either to say that the arguments lacked focus.
Demonstrating the sort of economy he habitually displayed on the field, Oisín McConville, formerly of Armagh and Crossmaglen, succinctly remarked that the GPA objections had been too late and the CPA approach too aggressive.
The GPA are getting a bit of a thrashing over this, which is not strictly fair. The organisation appointed Dermot Earley as its new chief executive little more than a month ago.
In his capacity as the organisation’s Central Council delegate, Earley had been supportive of the Duffy plan when it was unveiled last August.
“I’m delighted to see that the GAA has put one out there,” he said at the time. “It is quite a good structure. You’re going to make an All-Ireland series, a group stage. It should be very exciting. The fact that games are not all in Croke Park – that’s something we’re all crying out for. We want to see the provincial venues being used.”
That was five months before he became chief executive and felt that he had to canvass the membership on the proposal. The figures that came back, 70-30 against the idea, were less puzzling than the reasons stated in the GPA press release, which were essentially, a) lack of consultation and b) failure to address the problems of the weaker counties.
The first is not altogether sustainable. After all, one of the reasons for recognising the GPA was to grant them status within the GAA decision-making process and, as Central Council delegate, Early was part of the consultation.
There wasn’t though a whole lot he could work with, given the emphasis on the weaker counties in his membership’s responses. Short of handicapping, there is nothing that can be done without a graded championship, which the affected counties rejected when such a proposal was touted.
In fairness to Early, he said last Saturday that the matter would have to be revisited: “We’ll have to talk to them. We can’t ignore the fact that we may have to look at a two-tier system.”
He understands that what happened at the weekend isn’t the culmination of a desire for change and he is well capable of positioning the GPA to make a useful contribution to that evolution.
Club players’ opposition is even more intangible. The CPA complaint about consultation is even less persuasive than the GPA’s. Reasonable voices will concede that the club body came into existence just a little too late to input into the proposals and if there was frustration at the lack of recognition, how many governing bodies are going to grant official recognition to a new association set up fewer than seven weeks previously?
Similarly, reasonable people would have to disagree with the GAA decision not to allow the CPA an audience on the recognition motion and that prohibition in all likelihood drove a lot of the anger.
There is also without doubt an ongoing crisis for club fixtures, the result of decades of tolerating county boards’ slack administration of schedules and excessive concessions to county managers, but if anything the fog has started to lift in policy terms.
Recent reforms to reduce multi-eligibility and its disastrous impact on fixtures and the motions passed at the weekend to vacate September and reduce replays show that change is coming.
It’s likely that the championship proposal became simply a lightning conductor for long-simmering discontent but with the matter settled, there is now time for engagement as to how a much-improved GAA calendar can be devised.
Anyone listening to Newstalk’s Off the Ball on Monday night and its thoughtful discussion between Jarlath Burns, possibly the most effective advocate for change, and Anthony Moyles, treasurer of the CPA, couldn’t but be struck by the obvious common ground for future engagement.
Players and administrators may be from Venus and Mars (take your pick) but back on Earth there’s plenty of room for worthwhile engagement.