Ignore scaremongers – FRC's minor changes are for good of game
Published 01/04/2013 | 05:00
Discipline and the GAA are rarely comfortable bedfellows. Be it controlling the numbers allowed on the sidelines, restricting the number of players on inter-county panels, dealing with spitting (the latest contagion infecting football), or players and officers going to extraordinary lengths to get a suspension lifted following a referee's decision, the instinctive reaction of the majority of people involved in Gaelic games at all levels is to object.
Wild claims are the order of the day, with the protagonists issuing dire warnings of the consequences if the rules and regulations are not set aside to accommodate their particular problem.
I suppose we can all trace this attitude to the very roots of the GAA prior to its foundation in 1884, when the civil mayhem known as faction-fighting among local large groups of people seemed to be the major pastime in rural Ireland in particular.
With football and hurling being born from that background, it was not surprising that discipline was not very high on the agenda.
The lead-up to the GAA Congress in Derry last weekend typified this attitude.
A handful of prominent people involved in football and hurling issued dire warnings as to what might happen if some housekeeping duties relating to the playing rules of football were passed into GAA law.
Indeed, even after the passing of these motions for change, a prominent Armagh player – Ciaran McKeever – pronounced to the Irish public that the GAA would be dead in five years as a result.
About 95pc of Gaelic football activity was not even influenced by the Football Review Committee (FRC) motions. They concerned only a small number of adjustments to current playing rules with a couple of tiny exceptions. But even that was enough to let scaremongers loose.
The introduction of a black card is just a very small change to football disciplinary procedures and will be seen as such once it comes into play from next January.
There is still a marked reluctance to change within the GAA and the fact that rule changes must get a two-thirds majority to be passed copper-fastens that conservatism.
This is a great pity because simply requiring a majority would facilitate progressive changes in many aspects of the GAA, not just playing rules, changes that the vast audience for GAA would love to see.
At all times, the FRC tried to emphasise the amazing influence Gaelic football has in every parish in Ireland and abroad, something that is regularly taken for granted.
Hundreds of thousands go to watch club and county games from March to October. On Monday mornings countless thousands meet in offices, factories, educational establishments and other places and discuss, argue, compliment, give out and get mad at times over the match the day before.
It might have been a junior championship game between two neighbouring parishes or districts, or a provincial final in Clones, Killarney, Castlebar or Croke Park.
It doesn't matter – so ingrained is the interest in Gaelic football in every nook and cranny of Ireland that its capacity to entertain so many of us every week plays an enormously positive role in the lives of the people, especially in these barren times.
In a very small way, the FRC attempted, by the use of modern technology and otherwise, to communicate with a large number of these ordinary people for whom football is an integral part of their lives.
Only about 4,000 were contacted directly, but even that was a first in the GAA.
The FRC wanted to show that Gaelic football does not belong to any one section of Irish people – not GAA officers, not managers, not players, not people working in the media. Rather, the GAA belongs to everybody who is involved in the pursuit of Gaelic games.
Events in Derry last Saturday week proved that once again.