Sunday 25 June 2017

Joe Brolly: GAA ideals drowning in cash flow

Delegates vote to introduce the new football championship structure at Congress last weekend. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Delegates vote to introduce the new football championship structure at Congress last weekend. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Joe Brolly

We'll start this week with a little quiz: 1. Which GAA leader said this to the Irish Independent in November 2015? "We have taken a decision that we do not want any more inter-county games. Round-robin or group stages - whether in provinces or outside - would increase the number of games, so any proposal that includes them will not be looked at any further. We are simply not going to squeeze the clubs any more. On the contrary, we are trying to free up more time for them."

2. Which GAA leader said this to RTE in January 2016? "Clearly, we cannot have a principle that says we want to protect the club game and then turn around and recommend a proposal that increases the number of championship games."

This was a clear and unequivocal statement of principle by the GAA's leaders, that in order to protect the clubs, no proposal increasing the number of inter-county games would even be considered. A year later, the Super 8 is introduced.

How did essentially decent men get themselves into such an unprincipled, dishonest mess? The answer lies in something Peter Quinn said in April 2007. The last great president of the GAA, he told the Irish Independent: "The GAA has become dangerously complacent, is over-staffed, is failing to plan properly for the many challenges ahead and is under serious risk over the next 20 years unless there is a radical change of attitude at all levels." The GAA, he said, is suffering from "a serious lack of vision. We should have a new strategy for the next five years but where is it? Strategy is more important than day-to-day administration. We have become an administrative rather than a strategic organisation."

Which is precisely what is happening now. In this strategic vacuum, commerce has thrived but everything else is languishing, and the effective leader of the GAA is the commercial director Peter McKenna. He is the only person we have with a long-term strategy. His job is to create as much money as possible for the association and he does it extremely well. The problem is that the people entrusted with preserving the ideals of the association are not doing theirs, save for the fact they are good administrators. So, our ideals are disappearing.

Without a strategy, the GAA muddles along, taking the money. No long-term strategy means that we cannot afford principles. The Super 8 is a classic example of this. As was Sky.

The honest way to present the Super 8 was that we have made a very expensive deal with the GPA, our overheads are high, and we need the extra €5-7m the Super 8 will generate. Instead, it was spun in an entirely dishonest way. So, by last Saturday, we had the depressing spectacle of the GAA's leaders presenting the package as a victory for the clubs. Paraic Duffy said: "The voice of club players has been heard today."

Jarlath 'As Paraic Says' Burns went out with his tin hat on to defend the new scheme, using a tactic reminiscent of 'The Distracting Boss' in the BBC sketch series Big Train. The Distracting Boss owes his staff a performance-related bonus. They knock on his office door and enter. "Right, no diversions," their leader says, "when are we getting our bonuses?" The boss produces a deck of cards and insists on one of them picking a card. He proceeds to do a miraculous card trick, where the chosen card ends up in the pocket of one of the staff. As the bemused check through the deck in wonder, he slips out past them, jumps into a taxi and speeds off. In my favourite scene, when the staff are absolutely at the end of their tether, the Boss says, "OK, OK, I'll sort it now, open the drawer behind you." When they do, they find three adorable little puppies in the drawer. As they pet and stroke them, the boss slips past them unnoticed, jumps into a taxi and speeds off.

So, Distracting Jarlath gave a lengthy interview where the centre-piece was that the GPA's consultation with county players was nowhere near adequate. It worked. Every news outlet headlined his criticisms of the GPA's engagement with players. It was an entirely irrelevant piece of spin, but it brought Dermot Earley out to play and avoided the issue.

More interesting for me was that the GPA only came out against the scheme two days before Congress, when it was too late to have any impact. By then, county boards had already made their decisions, so the GPA's apparently principled stance was nothing more than window dressing. It was also conspicuous how lacking in conviction Dermot Earley was when he spoke against it at Congress. More than 70 per cent of GPA members were opposed to the Super 8. So why did the GPA keep this under wraps until it was too late to do anything about it?

It should have been announced weeks before rather than giving rise to a suspicion that it was a quid pro quo for the eye-watering new financial settlement they got. Either that or they are just completely useless.

The Super 8 will become entrenched and we will become reliant on the new money. For eight counties it means the end of summer club football altogether. Hurling meanwhile is an afterthought. The leadership stresses the fact that the football final has been brought back to August, but this is irrelevant. Only two counties have ever been affected by playing the final in September. This has not prevented the club scene becoming a dysfunctional mess in the other 30. The problem has never been that the final is played in September, but in the absence of a strategy, bringing back the final by a few weeks and proclaiming it a triumph for the clubs is the best they can come up with.

Tipperary brought the motion to recognise the CPA. They didn't so much as say a word in support of it. Basically, just held their noses and handed it up. They didn't have to hold their noses long. Within half an hour, they withdrew it. When the delegate announced its withdrawal, there was loud and prolonged applause from the delegates. An appropriate finale for 'the congress of the clubs'.

(The correct answers to the quiz questions are 1. Aogán Ó Fearghail and 2. Paraic Duffy.)

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