Tuesday 27 September 2016

Eamonn Sweeney: Pompous urban attitudes are adding to suffering of our rural clubs

Eamonn Sweeney

Published 15/05/2016 | 17:00

'GAA clubs actually care about the welfare of their players. These things can be left to their discretion. Instead Croke Park gets all Nanny State about it.' Photo: Sportsfile
'GAA clubs actually care about the welfare of their players. These things can be left to their discretion. Instead Croke Park gets all Nanny State about it.' Photo: Sportsfile

The GAA's ban on 17-year-olds playing for adult teams is one of those bright ideas which seems brilliant until you're at the receiving end of it. In this case those at the receiving end are smaller rural clubs who, as a result of the rule, are finding it more difficult to field second or third teams. I'm also aware of a junior club who can't field one of their best players because he falls into the prohibited age-group, which could seriously damage their prospects of honours this year.

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It's another example of the GAA not thinking through a rule before bringing it in. And of Croke Park's increasing unwillingness to trust clubs to know what's best for them. Because the implication of this new rule is that the country is full of clubs determined to play youngsters before they're ready, with the result that they'll be driven out of the game. Yet why would any club do that? They're going to need the player in the future.

These days the GAA has a tendency to bring in PC rules to address whatever the hot button media issue of the day is. It was burnout a couple of years back, so in comes the ban on 17-year-olds and the scrapping of the under 21 grade.

We don't hear anything about burnout these days; issues like depression and gambling addiction have replaced it in the headlines. But clubs are struck with the GAA's knee-jerk response to it.

Nobody has shown that allowing the odd 17-year-old to play adult football was a major contributor to burnout anyway. The rule is by and large a symbolic one born out of a desire to be seen to be 'doing something about the problem'.

In my own club I've seen Damien Cahalane, Brian Hurley and Michael Hurley play senior football while aged 17 without any fierce problems arising. Damien's uncle John Cleary played in a Cork senior final at the age of 15 and was still able to play an All-Ireland club semi-final 19 years later.

In any case it's nonsensical to presume that the year between 17 and 18 sees some miraculous transformation in players which suddenly renders them fit for adult competition.

Maybe the GAA thinks they undergo one of those mysterious rites of passage popular with primitive tribes in wildlife documentaries.

Some precocious youngsters are ready to step up when they're still minors, others need a few years before they're physically mature to manage it. It depends on the player.

It also depends on the competition. The blanket ban on 17-year-olds fails to recognise the vast difference between, for example, senior and junior B football. A county minor, for example, will hardly have much difficulty negotiating his way through the latter. This may come as news to the panic merchants but GAA clubs actually care about the welfare of their players. These things can be left to their discretion. Instead Croke Park gets all Nanny State about it.

There's something important at issue here beyond the actual rule itself. You see, a big urban or suburban club will have no problem fielding teams and can afford to confine guys to underage duty. And increasingly GAA legislation seems to have these clubs in mind to the exclusion of their rural brethren.

Somehere in the distance I can hear someone beginning a defence of the GAA by saying that if a small club can't field a team without 17-year-olds then that's too bad, they should take the hint and amalgamate with another club for the competition. This is classic incomprehension. The ability of small clubs with scarce population resources to survive and carve out a distinctive identity of their own is one of the glories of the GAA. Telling these proud clubs to amalgamate is nothing short of an insult. It's PUP talk.

PUP stands for the curse of this country, the Pompous Urban Prick. He's the guy who tells country people that they don't need those post offices and garda stations and ambulance services and hospitals. He regards one-off rural housing as practically criminal and thinks everyone should be forced to move into towns so he doesn't have to be looking at their bungalows when he's driving through the countryside on a weekend away. He has an inordinate affect on government policy in this country.

You'd imagine the GAA would be free of this kind of thing but in fact the 17-year-old rule, or more precisely the fact that it was passed without any thought of effect on small rural clubs, is classic PUP policy.

It's also an example of how to utterly miss the point. Was there a huge demand for the banning of 17-year-olds from adult teams or the axing of the under 21 grade or the moving of the club finals away from St Patrick's Day? Nope. The big demand is for action to ensure that club players get regular games, don't end up sitting out most of the summer, being jerked around because they're viewed as little more than annoying distractions to inter-county teams. But nothing is done about that.

In fact the kind of PUP who'd defend the ban on 17-year-olds is inclined to bang the drum for something called 'a Champions League format' for the championship which would probably ensure no club games ever get played in the summer. He'll tell you the inter-county scene is the 'shop window' for Gaelic games and clubs don't matter by comparison.

The PUP likes 'shop window' because he likes talking about money. He privileges the needs of Sky Sports over those of rural viewers without satellite dishes, he doesn't think the Sigerson Cup contributes to burnout because he likes universities, which are full of people who give 'seminars' and participate in 'think tanks' and 'working parties'.

He likes the idea of the club finals being replaced on St Patrick's Day by a game involving the Dubs, the PUP lives in or near Dublin; played under floodlights, the PUP likes new technology. The PUP was all for the under 21 grade being scrapped when he heard it would be replaced by a 'developmental' competition. Words like 'developmental' make the PUP react like Meg Ryan in the When Harry Met Sally deli scene.

The most hidebound conservative octogenarian delegate is not as blinkered in his thinking as those lads who think all change is good simply because it's change.

They're like those guys who lectured the Irish people on the need to be 'mature' and learn to love Irish Water. That ended well, didn't it?

PUPs all of them.

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