We can throw book at players but it'll be same old story
Published 17/08/2009 | 00:00
It looks as if some county boards are going to hang a 'Terms & Conditions Apply' notice outside dressing rooms -- and if these are not carried out players will not be admitted.
This seems to be the position in Laois anyway. County chairman Brian Allen announced this week that there would be rules and regulations applying to players on the Laois panel for the coming year, concerning their compliance with new disciplinary procedures for county players.
This seems to be one of the conditions required to ensure the reappointment of outgoing Laois manager Sean Dempsey, after several meetings regarding his position took place where player indiscipline was high on the agenda.
The reason for this latest edict is not hard to see -- there have been many outbursts of indiscipline among the Laois senior football panel in recent years and Allen obviously feels that a whole new approach is needed.
Most GAA people in the county would agree with that, but the implementation of a formal 'book of rules' for players could have serious ramifications for the future for Laois, and any other county that feels like going the same route.
Up to now, player discipline in each county was always under the control of the team manager and there are regular examples in recent years of managers using that power such as the recent events in Kerry, Donegal, Cavan and Galway to name a few. One of the primary tasks of any manager is to maintain total discipline in the camp and the vast majority of players in every county team see that as a necessity.
The first problem of following the proposed Laois route has already been identified by their former goalkeeper, Fergal Byron, when he said that the possibility of a split in the team is a real possibility if all players did not agree with the rulebook. Dedicated players, such as Byron was himself, might feel they are being slighted by being forced to follow such a regime.
It could appear as if players are being forced to play for the county team because of county board strictures rather than of their own free will.
Undoubtedly, many players over the years have been indisciplined but have been tolerated for the greater good of the team. The player who indulges in late night activity in the weeks before a championship game can really annoy their dedicated team-mates. But a manager has to decide between banishing the offending player, thereby punishing the team, or retaining him and antagonising the dedicated players.
Nearly every manager I have ever known has had this dilemma to face and all kinds of indiscipline and insubordination have afflicted most counties at some stage.
It will be interesting to see if the GPA take any interest in what Laois are planning to do. The right of amateur players to act freely and without binding agreements is surely the very cornerstone of amateurism as opposed to part or full-time professionalism. GAA players are volunteers, despite the lunatic fringe who like to say otherwise, and they have the right to withdraw their services at any time.
The exact rules of any Terms & Conditions applying to inter-county players will need to be very carefully considered. And what happens if these laws are broken -- will players be suspended? There is a long-standing rule in the GAA that county boards have full control over all aspects of county teams, but if that was ever tested by an Equality Tribunal or the Labour Relations Commission it might die an early death.
There is undoubtedly a need for greater discipline among many inter-county panels, if for no other reason that GAA supporters in any county generate thousands of euro every year to pay for the preparation of these teams and it is disgusting to such fund-raisers to see individual players behaving badly on discipline.
But young men today have vastly different attitudes to discipline in sport, and discipline elsewhere, than their fathers or grandfathers had, so people should understand the social climate in which they operate.
This applies particularly to weaker counties where All-Ireland or even provincial success is virtually an impossibility and the only honour a player can get at county level is the jersey and the often dubious distinction of being called 'a county player'.
The honour and glory of representing your county is the supreme achievement of every young man in Ireland with GAA roots and is a concept that GAA officials love to embrace on every occasion.
And, over the years, that has been the driving force that has made so many magnificent footballers and hurlers great -- the honour of the parish and then, hopefully, the honour of the county jersey.
But not ALL young players are as fanatical as others nowadays and sometimes the very severity that tradition imposes on a county player can be counter-productive. Some will buck the system and break loose from the rigid strictures of present-day managers. As amateurs, they have their rights and these often conflict with draconian behaviour by some managers.
It is debatable if imposing a new 'book of rules' for the conduct of county players will improve these situations. Only inspiring leadership by managers can lead county players to achieve their full potential, and that means personal attention to each individual player in order to coax, inspire and occasionally browbeat them into buying into the county cause. When that is achieved, indiscipline automatically is eradicated.
Trying to FORCE amateurs to become dedicated is a pointless exercise. It must come from the player's heart first of all.