Saturday 21 October 2017

Eugene McGee: Club heroes must fight for rights in fixtures war

Boards treating majority of players like dirt to suit whim of county managers

It was interesting in recent weeks to hear many prominent county players complaining bitterly about the state of club fixture-making in various parts of the country.

Last week we had Michael Darragh Macauley saying he is unlikely to get any break, even when the 2014 season starts. Sean Cavanagh, Michael Murphy, Paul Flynn and many others also had various grievances and they all seemed to centre around club championship games.

Now, this is very interesting because these were all inter-county players better known for their activities in that sphere than when playing for their club sides.

There seemed to be an implication in these and similar complaints that somehow it was club games that were the cause of the trouble.

The reality is the opposite. Only a tiny proportion of Gaelic footballers are regular members of county teams. The rest are the real victims of fixture mismanagement in so many counties, not county players.

Why have we so many county finals being played in October and November? Why have counties who departed the All-Ireland Championship campaign as far back as July, more than 12 weeks ago, still not completed their club championships or leagues?

These are the questions these leading footballers should be asking out loud if they are really interested in the welfare of their club colleagues around the country.

It is not the inter-county fixture programme by itself that is the main reason for the chaos that exists in many counties regarding club fixtures.

Instead it is the lack of proper administration of club games by many county boards that is the problem.

This now threatens to undermine club football completely if recent trends continue.

Dublin, for example, played no senior club championship games from May to October.

In 2013, Donegal played hardly any club games until after the All-Ireland and then rail-roaded the competition into a few weeks.

For 2014, Donegal are going even further, with the clubs themselves having passed a motion to not commence their SFC until Donegal have departed the championship, which could of course be late September.

Many counties have also abandoned their club games for long periods to facilitate their county team, although there are also examples of counties who do run their SFC during their county team's involvement.

The mantra most used by GAA officers at all levels is: 'The club is at the heart of the organisation'.

That is not really true, I am afraid. If it were, the huge army of club footballers – who train as hard as county players, make as many, if not more, sacrifices, rarely take travelling expenses from their club and even more rarely get any of the commercial perks that the big county stars are lavished with nowadays – would not be so badly treated.

Club players are the most committed and genuine in their love of their own place through their club.

However, in many cases these players are treated like dirt by the way fixtures are dealt with in their own county. Gaps of one to 12 weeks in the height of summer when young men love training and playing football lead to enormous frustration and even anger.

And while county players are often blamed by their clubmates, this is not entirely true.

From what I hear, most county players would be happy to play games every weekend for the county or club or at least every second weekend because being out on the field is what all players love best.

But, instead, inter-county championship games are often scheduled at three- or four-week intervals, which gives county boards an excuse to not to play club games in between. This is where club players should take a stand and demand change.

RATIO

In addition, there is growing evidence in the GAA lately that the ratio of training to playing is way out of line, with some county players playing one game to over 20 or more county training sessions.

This is plain madness and shows the grip that county team managers have over fixture-making in the GAA.

The club fixtures fiasco cannot be laid at the hands of the GAA at central level – 'that crowd up in Croke Park'.

For a start Croke Park does not organise the provincial inter-county fixtures in summer time, that is the remit of the four provinces.

If they wished, the provinces could condense their fixtures a bit more, but even the provinces are not the real culprits either.

Instead, county boards surely should be able to fix club games the weekend or two after their county team plays SFC, when there is a four-week gap.

Team managers have a big say in this but a motion was passed at Congress this year which decrees that the CCC in each county is the ultimate authority, not the manager, in making club fixtures.

It is up to the club players themselves to ensure that this is implemented – in other words club players need to stand on their own two feet and demand their rights.

Irish Independent

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