'Ask not what the GAA can do for you...'
Association’s image top of Duffy agenda as he demands support for sideline cuts
Step up and take greater responsibility for the image of the Association of which you are such an integral part.
That was GAA director general Paraic Duffy's over-riding message to managers, players and even the provincial councils, which he feels must take a greater role in helping to implement Association policy in their own jurisdiction as he made public his annual report to Congress yesterday.
As managers continue to rail against the imposition of stricter sideline protocols, and new rules head to next month's Congress to govern racist and other disrespectful remarks on the field of play, Duffy has appealed to those involved at the coalface to think of the greater good of the games and restore the values of sportsmanship.
He also urges the four provincial councils to take a greater role in the adherence to policies that are legislated for at central level.
Noting a "generally satisfactory" year for disciplinary standards at inter-county level, Duffy however admitted disappointment at "unacceptable behaviour" at end-of-season club games which again "damaged" the reputation of the Association.
It reinforces his view that there has never been a more appropriate time to reduce the numbers on the sidelines at all games, not just at inter-county level.
Duffy believes that if the new protocols reducing the numbers on sidelines from 12 to five can work at inter-county level, their benefits can filter down to club level, where most of the worst incidents take place.
"I'm more convinced than ever that we must now legislate for such a restriction and extend the regulations recently adopted by Central Council for its fixtures to all levels of the Association.
"It is deeply frustrating that those involved in scuffles or brawls at games have absolutely no awareness of the damage they do to the GAA," Duffy writes.
"That sanctions are later imposed in accordance with our rules does nothing to undo the damage that has been done – the unflattering image of the Association and its members has gained ground as a consequence of stupid and undisciplined behaviour.
"It is important that everyone appreciates that our attempts to reduce the number of people present on the sideline are not intended to hamper backroom teams in the preparation or execution of their duties, but are simply designed to improve the functioning and presentation of our games, and to bring the GAA into line with what is internationally accepted practice in all major field sports.
"I would ask team managers, coaches and selectors to see the reduction in the number of people present on the sideline as a major initiative to improve discipline within the Association, and to accept any perceived inconvenience that the new regulations may entail as a small price to pay towards the bigger prize of altering a culture that seriously damages our Association.
"Is there a single official or member of the GAA with its best interests at heart who does not recoil at the nationally televised spectacle of sideline brawls at our games? Is this to be what the country at large sees of the GAA?" Duffy asks.
High-profile incident of 'sledging' and racist abuse of players during the year are also touched upon, with Duffy reflecting on the "sad reflection" it is on the Association as a whole.
"It would be convenient to convince oneself that 'sledging' is the norm in many sports and to accept that the aspiration of keeping our games free of such behaviour is idealistic and unachievable. Such responses will ill serve the values and image of the GAA," he points out.
"It may appear naive simply to appeal to our good sense of good sportsmanship, but the Association must work with the GPA (and) our coaches and managers to ensure that cheating and verbal abuse are unacceptable in all circumstances and that our games are played in a positive and fair manner."
Duffy also raises the "non-compliance" with motions passed at annual Congress throughout the Association from the closed season on collective training, the guidelines on the amateur status to the availability of players to their clubs, and believes there should be a greater responsibility on the provincial bodies to see these through.
He points out that the rules of the Association allow the provincial councils to step in and take action themselves where required, but is adamant that it is not a criticism.
"On some matters the responsibility lies with Central Council, but the provincial council, in particular, also have an important role to play in this area," he writes.
"Given the levels of complaint that persist about the performance of some counties in these areas, provincial councils need to address these issues as a matter of priority."
He denied, however, that there was any dissatisfaction with the work of provincial councils.
"I made the very carefully chosen words that we want to work with provincial councils, that wasn't a criticism of them. It was a statement that we need to roll things out beyond Croke Park and beyond Liam (O'Neill) and myself," he subsequently explained.
Duffy is critical of the Association at central level for not supporting the county secretaries, in their transition from volunteers to full-time officers, with the proper skills to cope with financial and commercial management issues that come under their brief. The role of county secretaries, many of whom have become full-time officers in the last six years has, in some cases, not developed in the manner envisaged.
"If the secretary is to operate as a kind of chief executive in a county, much more training will be required, particularly with respect to financial and commercial initiatives.
"We brought in a system in 2007 to appoint full-time secretaries. I don't think we gave them enough. If there's a blame here, it rests with Croke Park. We didn't give sufficient attention to providing them with the necessary skills," Duffy later explained.