Alan Brogan: To save the club game, Páraic Duffy's defeated motions must be pushed through
Published 12/06/2016 | 17:00
The commercial monster that is inter-county football is at times in direct conflict with the clubs - ironically the bedrock on which the Association is built.
As an inter-county player, I tried not to let it concern me. I didn't want it to interfere with my preparations or to use it as an excuse for performances on the field with my county or my club, St Oliver Plunkett/Eoghan Ruadh.
Now, six months into my retirement as a Dublin player, I have a clearer picture of both sides of the argument.
There is no doubt that being a senior club footballer in Dublin is a frustrating existence, as I'm sure it is in other counties. I don't blame the hierarchy in the GAA, I don't blame the county boards. We, as members of the Association, must take responsibility and we must provide the solution.
Páraic Duffy has shown leadership in getting two motions to Congress earlier in the year which would have helped to ease the frustration on club players and the pressures on inter-county players. Both were defeated, even though they garnered over 50 per cent of the vote. (I can't for the life of me understand why they required 66 per cent, but that's another day's argument.) If we are serious about reigniting the club game, we needed to push those motions through.
The first was to bring the All-Ireland football final forward two weeks. The success of the Dublin team over the last number of years has resulted in the Dublin championship being played almost as a quick-fire tournament, with the team that picks up the fewest injuries usually the winner.
In 2011, Dublin won the All-Ireland with a few back games still to be played in the club championship. The last 16 got under way on October 15, the quarter-finals a week later on October 22, the semi-finals on October 29 and the final a week later on November 6.
My club, Plunketts, were beaten by a stronger St Brigid's team on the day but aside from that, and also leaving aside the county players who were lucky enough to win an All-Ireland that year, it is clearly unfair to ask a group of men from Plunketts, Brigid's, or any club, who have slogged and sacrificed for ten months in pursuit of a dream, in Plunketts' case in pursuit of our first ever senior club championship, to play off this competition in just four weeks.
There is a simple solution to this. We have to have another go at the motion to change the date of the All-Ireland football final. I urge all counties, and all county players, to get the support to push this motion through.
The second motion, that no replays would take place in the championship, is hardly ground-breaking in its own right, but is certainly a step in the right direction. The simple dilemma in this instance is what takes priority - the revenue generated by a replay or a healthier club game. Again, there is only one winner for me.
Throughout my inter-county career, club league games took a back seat to my preparations with Dublin. As a young Plunketts and Dublin fan, I recall going to Plunketts' league games in the hope of seeing my hero Mick Galvin line out. More often than not I was disappointed as his inter-county commitments didn't allow for it. That was 1995, so the issue goes back that far.
I'm sure there are youngsters, like me in 1995, who go to club league games all over the country hoping to see their inter-county heroes play only to be disappointed.
The crux of the matter is that while my inter-county career flourished, my club career has been fairly abject and that will be a regret when I look back in years to come. This is a result of the system and the culture of priority being given to inter-county football throughout the Association.
We must not forget that the inter-county game is what produces the revenue that is fed back down through county boards and into the clubs. The product is strong enough at present to produce substantial sponsorship opportunities, and this is what part funds the facilities, games promotion officers and the like.
This funding is critical for the GAA to compete against soccer and rugby for the hearts and minds of young players. But the club player has been forgotten and that needs to change. I should have had the opportunity to play more with my club and the guys I grew up with. Instead, Dublin always took priority.
Players will continue to give their all for their county; indeed in a lot of cases Jim Gavin has to stop his players from doing extra training in their own time - that is how driven the modern inter-county footballer is. Guys at this level are highly ambitious and will leave no stone unturned in pursuit of glory.
The direction needs to come from the top in Croke Park and the members need to push the recommendations through. I don't expect radical changes, but we need to start somewhere in addressing the inter-county fixture calendar. There is no easy solution, but the fixture calendar certainly needs to be condensed, if nothing else, to ease the burden the length of a inter-county season can have on some guys.
The GPA have produced evidence that the pressures of inter-county football and hurling are weighing heavily on players' careers and personal lives. In my own case, I dropped the idea of completing accountancy exams because I felt it would impact on my football career.
Páraic Duffy and the leadership in the GAA, need to continue to address the issue of the club player and get the motions back on the table next year. Move the All-Ireland final and allow counties to complete their club championships in a manner that is fair to club players who have slogged all year.
To help facilitate this, scrap pre-season tournaments and start the Allianz Leagues in mid-January. End replays in the championship, maybe even make April to mid-May a club-only period when no inter-county activity takes place anywhere in the country. I never had the opportunity to spend six weeks solid with my clubmates until I retired last year and returned to club football in January.
That's not what our great Association is about.
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