Wednesday 18 October 2017

Colm O'Rourke: Top brass kick sand in the faces of the weak

‘The decision to move the All-Ireland football final away from the third Sunday of September left me flabbergasted’. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
‘The decision to move the All-Ireland football final away from the third Sunday of September left me flabbergasted’. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

A house divided against itself cannot stand. These words were spoken by Abraham Lincoln in 1858 when he argued that slavery must be abolished and that separate rules could not apply in different parts of his country.

Similar sentiments strike me about last weekend's Congress. Rarely has such disunity prevailed. A clear division now exists between players and administrators. In ramming through championship reform, Central Council won out. It may be a Pyrrhic victory as the cost in terms of negative sentiment among large swathes of the organisation could be very harmful long term; this is merely the first battle of a long war.

If the winners were seen to be the GAA hierarchy, then their argument is that this is democracy. They presented their position document to county boards and most of them supported it.

This is a moot point. If Páraic Duffy presents his findings at a county board meeting, there is unlikely to be much opposition among those who attend. Real democracy is when something as important as this then reverts back to clubs and after a full discussion, the club delegate is mandated to vote in a certain way. Things would have been different if that had happened.

The losers from last weekend were both players' bodies, the GPA and the newly-formed CPA. It seems many took a bit of delight in giving the GPA a good kicking when they had the chance. The GPA, by only taking a position late in the day, left themselves wide open to a low blow. Yet despite my reservations about the GPA, and particularly its escapades in the United States, I am willing to give Dermot Earley an opportunity to make his mark. Anyway, kicking a man when he is down is not my style, but the GPA need to get their act together on fixtures as well as their image if anyone is going to take them seriously.

Similarly, the CPA were more or less laughed out of court when it came to a proposal for recognition. Hoping that the motions on the new structures were going to be postponed pending further discussion was naive considering all the high-powered suits behind the proposals, but again there was no need for abrupt dismissal. This dog could come back to bite.

Sometimes, though, you wonder about people; if some are not willing to help themselves, then why should others try to do something for them? For example, I have argued over weeks and months that the last thing needed was more games for the elite; instead, the struggling bottom group of counties needed special and immediate attention. If many of these turkeys vote for Christmas, then what chance do we have? The idea of self-help does not seem to register in the bowels of the GAA. If they had said loud and clear, as a unified group, that they would support a revamped system if they were catered for properly, then there would have been action.

The weaker counties had all the power here but no strength of conviction. Obviously having being walked on for over a century means they do not know how to register even a murmur of discontent. They had a chance of speaking up or remaining forever silent. Worse still, they took the soup.

But what should I have expected? When Central Council voiced no objection to the Sky deal - which means huge numbers cannot see our games without paying big money - it indicated there are many in places of importance with no moral fibre. How do they explain such hypocrisy?

Maybe the weak think these changes have no implications for them, as there was no proposal on the table that would have done anything for them anyway. True in one sense. Yet there are implications for their club games. In June, July and August there are going to be loads of high-profile county games shoe-horned into these Sundays. Clubs will be forced to play matches at other times or attendances on Sundays will be hit with big matches on TV.

There is also the negative sentiment among county players. Those from the weak counties now know for sure they don't count. They have no chance of playing in Croke Park in August and must surely also know that because they have no earning capacity, they are the dirt on the shoe to be shaken off early, much earlier, in the season. Of course Dublin v Tyrone and Mayo v Kerry will bring in big crowds and loads of money, but why not try Leitrim v Waterford before one of these games in Croke Park?

The meek shall inherit the earth is the third verse of the Sermon on the Mount. Never heard of it is the official line from Croke Park. Their sermon is that the meek can do what they like so long as they don't interfere in the big boys' club.

Bringing the date forward that county players have to be registered in the United States to July 1 in an effort to combat GAA tourism is a waste of time in the context of the new format. All the small fry will be well out of the championship by then. In this way the GAA have given an even bigger boost to the American trade. 'Go west young man, go west' was the catchphrase of the pioneers who colonised the new States. In the process they wiped out the poor Indians, but that is a horse of another colour.

Anyway the GAA students, teachers, unemployed and long holidays crew will make hay in every big city in America unless they are Trumped! Donald might just shut the gate when he hears what the GAA are at.

While it beggars belief that the lemmings walked off the cliff in terms of fixtures, the decision to move the All-Ireland football final away from the third Sunday of September left me flabbergasted. Next thing the Easter Rising will be in summer to ensure good weather. The All-Ireland final is a national institution. Think of all the people who plan their holidays around it, especially those from abroad. Another source of promotion for this country is now dried up.

Clubs and schools organise fundraisers and social occasions based on that day. It really marks the end of summer in GAA terms. Now having it in August when many are away on holidays puts in on at a time when it does not have the same stand-alone value attached to it. Not only that but it means no high-profile county game from August to February.

What code would give up its most appealing date like this? Think of the Six Nations in February/March, the FA Cup and Champions League finals in May, Cheltenham in March, the Grand National in April, the Derby in June, the list is endless. And the idea that it is somehow going to be a huge boost for clubs or club fixtures is laughable. Only two counties are left in September anyway and I repeat what I have been saying for years: the problem with club fixtures is almost always down to inefficient county boards, not county football.

The die has been cast, but when John Horan takes over as president it will be easier to have fresh thinking. What is needed is a group of sensible people (hard to find) representing all interested parties - the GPA, its poor cousin the CPA, a rep from Central Council, provincial councils, third-level institutions and a few others - to look at every fixture and competition. This is by no means an impossible task. It should have been done before these proposals were even brought to Congress.

Then all you need is a chairman called Solomon or Lincoln to bring all the wild and whirling words and ideas together. Otherwise the house will divide against itself and will not stand.

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