Saturday 1 October 2016

Ciarán Whelan: Failure to bring forward All-Irelands was a slap in the face to club players

Read Ciarán Whelan's exclusive column every week in The Herald

Ciarán Whelan

Published 04/03/2016 | 18:46

Ciaran Whelan believes that last weekend's GAA Congress failed club players
Ciaran Whelan believes that last weekend's GAA Congress failed club players

IT was a case of “A lot done more to do to”, to borrow a famous election slogan from the boom times of yester year, at last weekend’s Congress.

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The GAA hierarchy and Páraic Duffy will look for the positives to take from last weekend’s Congress in Carlow but on the whole they will reflect on some missed opportunities.

Despite an extensive process of consultation lead by Pádraic Duffy last year, the failure of any revised championship structure proposal to even make the Congress floor must be deemed a huge failure.

The ignorance to club players by rejecting the concept of the reducing replays and bringing forward the All-Ireland finals in favour of retaining revenue opportunities was also a slap in the face from delegates to clubs players.

Change in the GAA is a slow-burner. The historic democratic process of a two-thirds majority can at times be the worst form of governance. The process of counties bringing motions from clubs in their own counties and then themselves as a county voting against those same motions epitomises the problems with the outdated democratic system and process.

Delegates with vested interests, whether they are locally driven and more often driven by pure revenue opportunities, will look at motions in a very different manner than players, coaches, managers  or grassroots GAA people. The wider leadership of the GAA has a duty to  address the problems at club level and they must also start giving more consideration to the views of the current players when it comes to proposal for  the championship structure changes.

Whilst Cork lead the charge to protect September as the key month for GAA activity maybe they should be more concerned about the months of May and June where the interest in a lopsided, unbalanced championship structure is decreasing at a rate of knots.

Reflecting on the weekend following the GAA congress in Carlow, there was one man’s name that kept springing to mind, Seán Kelly, the former president of the GAA and now MEP.

Whilst Páraic Duffy will be disappointed with the outcome of some of his proposals documented in his discussion paper, himself  and Aogán ó Fearghail could turn to the legacy of Seán Kelly for inspiration.

When a change to Rule 42 to open up Croke Park was rejected for the second time in 2004, Kelly, the then GAA president, took time to reflect on a high tide that was coming is his direction but at that time he showed his true leadership and continued the fight even if it meant been on his own in difficult waters. 

Kelly showed his determination to succeed in changing a deeply rooted core GAA ruling.

“I intend to keep my eyes open all the time, keep a close watch on some friends of mine, but when it comes to walking the line, I’ll walk no line but my own, the line that I think is best for the GAA.”

“I’d asked myself: are you prepared to fail? I said ‘I am’. Once you decide you’re prepared to fail you can do anything. It is the fear of failure that makes people cowardly.”

The leadership of the GAA now has the duty to continue to fight the case for club players who are thrown around like ragdolls as a result of the current GAA calendar. Whilst there is no silver bullet, the GAA needs to take a braver stance on our championship structures even if change means breaking down the barriers of tradition. 

Last weekend was a case of taking small progressive steps and it was not all bad news for Páraic Duffy and the GAA.

There were some shrewd changes that will benefit the organisation going forward.

The changes from Minor to Under-17 and Under-21 to Under-20 are well thought out changes that will alleviate a lot of the pressures of burnout and the demands that are currently on young players.

The revised U17 level will take the leaving cert year and senior colleges football out of the equation for most U17  players . This will ease the tension in many households around the country where the debate about balancing education and football commitments was a regular feature across the dinner table!

The introduction of an Under-20 competition also makes sense as it will it reduce the number of players asked to play with multiple teams -intercounty Under 20 team,  intercounty senior teams  and Sigerson teams.

Another step to exclude all  intercounty U20 players from Third Level College Freshers football would go a step further to ease the burden of burnout on our young players.

With every upside comes a downside and unfortunately the changes mean that a group of players  countrywide currently in U16 development squads will miss the opportunity of playing minor or U17s for their respective county when they changes are implemented in 2018. 

A proposal to run off a once-off U18 championship in 2018 is the least that can be done.

The players currently in development squads all have a dream of wearing their county minor jersey which can be the pinnacle of their footballing careers.

The other matter which has raised much debate over the recent week had been the introduction into the rules  of the ‘Mark’ from kickouts which travel beyond the 45-metre line. It has created a lot of debate over the last week from many quarters.

For me, I just cannot see any huge benefit for the ’Mark’  in the way the modern game is played and it all seems a bit pointless. Change for the sake of change. 

Will it make a huge impact on our games? No. Will it be detrimental to our games going forward? No. Will it increase the number of clean catches around the midfield area? No. Will there be the odd occasion where it benefits a player who catches a ball and is closed down by defenders? Yes, of course.

Having trialled the rule in the recent Leinster MFL, it was the clear that the impact of the rule was minimal and it was generally ignored by most teams.

So when you weigh up the benefits of the rule change, it is hard to argue for it with any great substance.

The new rule will only put further pressure on referees and it certainly will not, as proposed by Jarlath Burns, be a reason for the goalkeeper to kick the ball out to the middle of the field.

A week in the life of the GAA would not be the same unless we had something to debate!

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