News Colm O'Rourke

Thursday 18 September 2014

Colm O'Rourke: GAA's costly punishments create another fine mess

Suspensions are the only penalty that will get the full attention of players, says Colm O'Rourke

Published 19/02/2012 | 05:00

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Time for someone at the top to call a halt to this recent madness of heavy fines which are being thrown around like confetti. What is the point in all of this?

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An organisation which prides itself on being close to the community has lost all contact with reality by imposing heavy fines on clubs and counties. Do those who are advocating such an approach not realise that every club and county is struggling to survive? This blunt instrument has absolutely no place in punishing ill-discipline in teams.

The players of Monaghan, Kildare, Cork and Armagh couldn't care less about the fines imposed on their teams and if anyone thinks that the chairman of the county board will warn players about their conduct because of the fear of a fine, then they have spent too long in hot rooms. There is only one deterrent -- suspension. And it is just a cop-out to impose a fine and then ignore the individuals at the root of the problem.

What has happened recently was harmless in the amount of violence involved. It wouldn't even have been mentioned a few years ago, but if the GAA wants to improve its image -- and these pushing and pulling melees look awful -- then identifying and suspending those who become involved will immediately solve the problem.

I find the whole idea of making ordinary members pay a fine in an amateur association not only contradictory but completely repulsive. So, those in charge are either brave enough or not. If you want to suspend then do so, but leave struggling clubs and counties alone and don't try to pauperise them by shifting money from those in need to the central organisation which has more than enough. The same applies to county boards. No fines on clubs, the sledgehammer approach does not work. Specific deterrents are the only things that command attention when dealing with young gentlemen. Which is more likely to promote good conduct -- a match ban on a player or a fine? Answers to the CCCC on an envelope. I would go so far as to say that clubs and counties should refuse to pay as it is completely contrary to the amateur ethos.

Time too for some type of match commissioner who can make quick decisions. There was never a better chance for some good publicity as last Saturday night's abandonment due to fog in Castlebar. Someone thinking on their feet could have spoken to both camps, refixed the match for the following afternoon and have advised everyone in attendance that admission would be free.

The money from Saturday evening's crowd was already collected and surely an open-gate policy would have swelled numbers for the Sunday. And as the Dubs were staying the night, it was not as if new arrangements had to be made. A chance lost.

Someone like this was also needed in Paris on the same night. In that sophisticated world it is hard to credit that an official was not detailed to take the covers off the pitch at match time on Thursday for a couple of hours and see how the pitch deteriorated. It would have saved a lot of hassle.

The rescheduling of the Mayo-Dublin game nearly scuppered the old Railway Cup competition too. As it is, the semi-finals are on today, but if the Dublin-Mayo refixture had gone ahead in opposition, Leinster would have been short about ten Dublin players.

Seán Boylan, the Leinster manager, said in a very nice way that they could have both games if they wished, but it would be without him. Quite right too -- the interprovincial competition has been restored this year and it was going to be chopped off at the knees before a game was even played. When Boylan said 'no' in Meath it didn't matter whether he was smiling or not, it still meant 'no'. Now those at central level have got a reminder that the little general may speak softly, but he carries a big stick.

The Railway Cup was a brilliant competition and was valued highly by all players. A medal would still be treasured, but players are being asked to split themselves at this time of year. At the moment there is the league, the under 21 and the Sigerson Cup and it is grossly unfair to players to throw in another competition.

If it was played at a different time of year it would still have great appeal for players, even if it is probably a dead duck as a big spectator attraction. However, it should not be beyond the marketing strategists to come up with a better way to promote it.

When I first played in this competition nearly 30 years ago, I read about my selection in the paper. No text messages or phone calls; a committee was assembled, the team was chosen and was released. You showed up on the day and the reward if you got beaten was the provincial jersey to bring home. It may look a small thing now but everyone held on to that jersey as a valuable trophy.

In those early years playing with Leinster there was no success and it was the same with Meath, but just like the buses the mid 1980s saw plenty coming at the one time. The first win for Leinster in '85 was on a team managed

by Bobby Miller of Laois and Brian Mullins of Dublin. Bobby manages teams in the great stadium in the sky now but I always recall that day when we beat Munster with great fondness.

As it turned out, it was the only winning team I played on, even though Leinster, under the chairmanship of Jack Boothman, had a great run at the time. However, various problems arose for me, the competition went back to autumn time and I was often tied up with the club championship.

Later on, I was a selector with Kevin Heffernan which was an education in itself. On one occasion we were picking a team and as nobody seemed to have brought any paper, Heffo finished off his last cigarette, folded out the packet and wrote the team out on the back of it. He was a great manager and the preparation and performance of that team reflected his philosophy of football where there were no grey areas. Incidentally, I got the official team sheet that night to give to the Leinster secretary for publication, I should have kept it as a collector's item.

Men like Kevin Heffernan and Seán Boylan understood what the Railway Cup represented: tradition, a chance for players from weaker counties to have one big day in the company of All- Ireland winners, an opportunity for camaraderie between players in neighbouring counties and a chance to see the best against the best. The value of something can't be measured by crowds or whether it makes money. If the players still want it, then it should be retained.

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