independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Club players at heart of FRC plan

The ball is thrown in for the start of the 1947 All-Ireland SFC final in New York’s Polo Grounds

I WAS surprised last week by the extent of the positive reaction from around the GAA world to the Football Review Committee’s (FRC) ‘four eights’ proposal.

Surprised because this is a fairly revolutionary idea in GAA terms as the present system has been there for 140 years.

No doubt, there’s a lot of disenchantment with some aspects of the present system but, in general, there is no great appetite to abandon it in favour of something like an All- Ireland open draw or Champions League-style competition.

The FRC propose one method for arriving at ‘four eights’ through playing four preliminary-round games, three in Leinster and one in Ulster.

Playing your way forward, or otherwise, is always the fairest way because every team gets their chance.

But I am sure there are people with other methods for achieving the ‘four eights’ – and good luck to them.

Officials from Connacht and Ulster have already declared their interest in examining the proposal.

This ‘four eights’ is not just a fancy notion – it’s aimed at streamlining the All-Ireland championship, thus creating more weekends in summer months for more club games to be played.

Some counties simply abandon their county championship while the county team is still involved in the championship and this is wrecking club fixtures.

Using ‘four eights’ would help stop that disgraceful abuse of club players and indeed the county players who also love playing for their local club.

Several other proposals are included in the FRC report with the aim of making football more attractive for players and spectators.

Like all previous proposals, the inspiration for change came mainly from the widespread communication between the GAA public in every corner of Ireland through surveys, discussions and face-to-face meetings with about 500 GAA activists at all levels, club and county, during 2012.

A few prominent GAA diehards have tried to denigrate this part of the FRC’s work as being a waste of time, which is insulting to all those who made submissions to the FRC.

Ordinary GAA people – for the first time – were given an opportunity to present their views and did so in their thousands, and their voice will become more important as time goes on.

The latest (and final) FRC proposals are only that – proposals.

The two inner circles of power in the GAA, management committee and central council, will first discuss the proposals and then decide what, if any, are worthy of being the subject of a Special Congress later in 2014 with possible implementation in 2015.

So there are many GAA hoops to jump through yet.

Fascinating tale of 1947 All-Ireland in the Big Apple

Many GAA-related books nowadays are mundane -- particularly those classed as life stories of famous players, though there are notable exceptions.

But there are two currently on sale that I believe are in a different class because they are based on solid in-depth research and are written with style.

The first is called 'The Fairytale of New York' and is a fascinating read even though it mainly concerns one game -- the All-Ireland final of 1947 between Cavan and Kerry, which was played in The Polo Grounds, New York.

That game's place in GAA history has been copper-fastened by being the only All-Ireland final played outside Ireland and the prelude, the actual event and the aftermath make the book enthralling and not just for Cavan or Kerry people.

Author Paul Fitzpatrick, who is in his early 20s, is one of the youngest to write any major GAA book -- and what a literary debut he has made.

Everything about the final was surreal. Almost nobody agreed with the decision to play it outside Ireland in the first place, with Cavan and Kerry people the most critical because they would not be able to see the game in those pre-television days.

Even the eventual radio commentary seemed unlikely to take place, but it did.

However, with the sleight-of-hand politics that was the hallmark of the GAA in those times, a cleric from Clare, Canon Hamilton, who was on the Central Council and had the backing of John Kerry O'Donnell in New York, somehow managed to convince the Council members late one night to give the okay.

It is easy to forget now that Cavan were then one of the top three or four teams in Ireland. They were in their third All-Ireland final in five years and were one of Kerry's greatest rivals.

Fitzpatrick writes about much more than a football game. The diverse personalities of the Cavan players are outlined and the background in rural Ireland of the time is contextualised in terms of the football scene in those days.

The legendary Cavan names were nationally famous at the time and are revered to this day in their native county. Willie Doonan, a former soldier in the British Army, Mick Higgins, the classic centre-forward, Phil 'The Gunner' Brady the hard man from the famous Mullahoran club which also produced future Tanaiste Johnny Wilson and the great leader John Joe O'Reilly, a captain in the national army -- one of only 14 to receive the Sam Maguire Cup twice.

Emigration was a fact of life then in Cavan and the author weaves his way through the many Breffni county connections in the Big Apple, where several players eventually lived the rest of their lives.

This book is full of real characters. The author writes about real events that were well researched in Ireland and New York and this is what gives it authenticity. The Polo Grounds All-Ireland will never be replicated so it is fitting that such a unique event in Gaelic games history should be so uniquely covered by Fitzpatrick.

The other serious and very competent publication is the Kerry book 'Forging a Kingdom' by Richard McElligott, a historical account of the first 50 years of Kerry football up to 1934.

It is a strange thing that despite the number of brilliant writers Kerry has produced, the GAA history of the county has never been compiled and written. This book seems an ideal starting point to complete that task.

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