GAA 'top brass' put necks on line in the name of change
The GAA President Aogan O Fearghail from Cavan has been keeping a low profile since his three-year term started last March but Martin Breheny did get a long interview with him for Saturday's Irish Independent and his words were very significant.
It is often claimed that a GAA President has little or no power in his own right because the organisation is actually governed by committees of which there are a myriad in the GAA. Well, he certainly spelled out a few home truths in this interview that indicate he is going to exert some hands-on influence on some topical matters of recent times.
For example, he made short work of any notion that the All-Ireland championship could be played in 'Champions League style' thereby leading to a lot more county games than at present. In a GPA submission some weeks ago, their ideas would mean nearly 30 more county games being played, something that would wreak further havoc with club games.
The president seems determined, along with Paraic Duffy, to eliminate a lot of games at different levels, such as Under-21 football, in order to make room for more club championship games in the summer months.
He also made it quite clear that there will be no change in the timing or the continuation of the provincial championships which will come as a big disappointment to many of the younger generation, but it does look as if the GAA is going to go for bust on giving proper consideration to club games all over Ireland once and for all, and that inevitably must lead to tighter restrictions on county football - such as, for example, ending replays by making extra time compulsory for all championship games, including All-Ireland finals.
The other critical matter, affecting football in particular, is the abuse of players aged 16 to 21 by forcing them to take part in too many competitions at the same time of the year, spring and summer, and we have had a litany of horror stories in recent times of the scandalous overuse of these young men in various parts of the country. This can only be solved by a revised fixture programme that will prevent this overloading and Aogan O Fearghail stated in this interview that the time has come to take action on this matter.
Last week Messrs O Fearghail and Duffy visited the four provincial councils, a rare enough occurrence by the way, and spelled out the changes that are to be debated and voted upon in the new year. Seldom has such a concentrated effort been made from Croke Park to sort out the diabolical situation relating to club games as this time. But the changes will be resisted tooth and nail by many conservatives and of course by inter-county team managers, who in essence control club fixtures in most counties nowadays.
By going out on a limb like this, O Fearghail and Duffy have put their own reputations and that of their two officer positions in the GAA on the line to an extent that has rarely happened in modern times in the association. But clearly they believe the current problems warrant this, as do most activists in the GAA. But going on past history, it will be an uphill battle. GAA officers are past masters at prevaricating, dissembling and sleight of hand when it comes to change. Let's see if it will be any different in the spring of 2016.