Colm O'Rourke: GAA positional switch catches managers with eye off the ball
Using head-to-head results to determine final league placings is fair to all, says Colm O'Rourke
R EADING the papers last week might have led you to the conclusion that the GAA had sprung an April fool's joke on inter-county managers, who only now seem to have twigged that teams which finish on the same points after next Sunday's final round of NFL games will have their placings determined by the head to head.
This means that if two counties have the same number of points, and either a place in the league final or relegation is at stake, then the match between the sides is the first criterion in determining who finishes in front of who.
The means of deciding finishing positions has been reversed from that used last year, with score difference now the second method. This decision was taken at Congress last April and indeed was embraced immediately by many counties and used in their local championships last summer. But sadly some managers, instead of asking their own county board officials why they had not given them the information, had a general lash about moving the goalposts in the middle of a competition.
This minor rule change is something which I have advocated for a long time and I am glad to have played a small part in the Meath-sponsored motion going through. The reasons are very simple. Most competitions in the GAA, especially at club level, are either straight leagues or league championships. The previous system of deciding placings at the end of group stages on the basis of score differences was absolutely unfair and gave rise to serious anomalies.
First of all, score difference is suited to soccer, but not to Gaelic football or hurling. In club games in particular, matches at the end of the competition can produce strange results because a team which is out of contention or already relegated may have no interest in either fielding their best team or in trying too hard.
So a side that needs to post a big score may get an unfair advantage simply because of the order in which they played their matches.
In some competitions where there is an uneven number of teams in a group, this inequity is magnified as one side may know exactly what they must win by to avoid relegation, secure promotion or qualify for the knock-out stages. Division 4 of the Allianz Football League is a case in point.
Changing the rules to make the result between two teams the first method of deciding places makes the system fair to all and I find it hard to understand what part of fairness causes a problem.
The only thing of course is that fairness and self-interest don't always mix. So if a county loses out or benefits on the basis of this new system next week, it is because they deserve to, nothing else. And don't blame Croke Park either; it is up to county boards to keep their own managers up to speed on rule changes which could have a major impact on their positions. A change which they have had a year to pass on.
You might wonder why clubs and counties can't go their separate ways on this one. Well, the problem is that the official guide holds for everyone, so clubs, counties and all other units are bound by the same rules. Points difference will still be used if there is a draw between the sides. So there is no great plot by Croke Park to undermine team managers at the eleventh hour. Merely a fair system for all.
On an entirely separate note, over the last few months I have been contacted by many genuine football people who are increasingly concerned by the amount of GAA-linked internet sites which allow anonymous users make comments about football affairs in general, but also allow statements about players, managers and officials which are gratuitously insulting.
I know that, for the most part, these sites are used for information and a bit of banter, but it is the ultimate in cowardice to hide behind a pseudonym when making comments which deride or ridicule players and managers.
If a person wants to make a comment, they should have to put their real name to it and while I am very much a novice when it comes to technology, I am sure it is possible to implement such a system. In general, it must be the younger generations who use such facilities; some may have personal issues with managers and players, but they tend to portray their own agendas as constructive analysis. These people should be exposed for what they are, while those who use the facility for information and a bit of fun have nothing to worry about.
Nobody should be allowed to pass any remark on anything if they are not brave enough to reveal their identity. But there should be protection for those who are vulnerable. My name appears on this piece, as it does with all others in the media. If someone does not agree with my sentiments, then they can let me know and, believe me, plenty do.
Most of those who challenge my opinion do so through a letter to the editor or a personal note and the vast majority are entirely reasonable. This system is called freedom of the press, and people are held to account for what they say or write. So I can understand fully the concerns of those who see anonymous comment sites as an opportunity for undesirable elements to post vehement comments about those who have no right of reply.
It should be possible for the GAA, along with internet providers, to have such sites vetted so that only bona fide GAA supporters have access and where they have to use their name and club. If that was possible, the cowards would run for cover fairly quickly.
And finally, a message for a great GAA man, Seán Quinn: don't let the bastards grind you down.