Thursday 27 April 2017

Enough is enough - new clubs body demands radical fixtures reform

Whole country is fed up with waiting game, says CPA's Kavanagh

Among those at the top table of yesterday’s Club Players Association (CPA) launch in Ballyboden St Enda’s were, from left: Niall Corcoran, Aaron Kernan (Grassroots Co-ordinator), Declan Brennan (Secretary), and Micheal Briody (Chairman). Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Among those at the top table of yesterday’s Club Players Association (CPA) launch in Ballyboden St Enda’s were, from left: Niall Corcoran, Aaron Kernan (Grassroots Co-ordinator), Declan Brennan (Secretary), and Micheal Briody (Chairman). Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When Derek Kavanagh's hip began to creak too much he packed up playing football for Cork. Quickly the distress became so great that he was forced out of club football with Nemo Rangers. At 32 he had the joint replaced.

In the meantime coaching filled the void. But in his first year with Nemo he saw the enthusiasm visibly drain from his players as the annual waiting game took hold: 15 weeks from first round to second round in the local senior championship, 19 weeks in the case of one club Bishopstown.

It moved him to present a motion to Cork convention the following December calling for the All-Ireland football and hurling finals to be brought forward by two weeks to free up more time for club activity.

It met with resistance from the top table but eventually pushed through to Congress in Derry where it was defeated, the appetite for too much change after the introduction of the black card inevitably sinking it.

Kavanagh was well ahead of the curve in his thinking. For last year's Congress GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghaíl and director general Paraic Duffy were the architects of motions, based on a synopsis of a number of previous reports that called for two weeks to be shaved off the inter-county season. That failed too, albeit narrowly.

Undeterred, Kavanagh is back for more, taking time out yesterday morning to drive to Cork and take his place at the top table as the Club Players Association officially launched itself.

And condensing the inter-county season is at the core of what they are striving for again as a means to finding a lasting solution to a dilemma that has resonated.

Idiotic

"I was ridiculed," reflected Kavanagh on his 2013 motion. "It was said it was idiotic and September is sacrosanct. But my answer to that was September is sacrosanct but I'm retired, I have a hip replacement. I was then 32 years of age, I was coaching guys that were walking away at 30 years of age because they were wasting their lives."

Communication between club players in every corner of the land will be key, feels Kavanagh, so that potentially reforming motions can gain the necessary support in the future, unlike his 2013 effort.

"I would love to meet a player in any club that could put his hand up and say he is okay with the fixtures," he said. "I would love to meet somebody from a county board to say they are happy with the fixtures."

Kavanagh did not rule out the prospect of alternative action if opposition to their wish list for change met with resistance. Given that the GAA at central level are already on that path, that's very unlikely.

"It's just not there and we all know there is a problem. I think they (GAA) will welcome it (CPA) but if there is too much conflict we will have to take another route," he said.

"I hope it will greeted positively because I think the whole country is fed up with it, but the structure is such that a good motion could come out of Cork or Sligo and it is easily suppressed."

Kavanagh was joined by former county footballers Aaron Kernan, Shane Curran, Anthony Moyles, Martin McHugh and Kevin Nolan, and ex-hurlers Niall Corcoran and Liam Griffin.

Other members and officers of the CPA executive were also vocal, including secretary Declan Brennan and new chairman Michael Briody from Meath.

Briody, in calling for players to register on the website, stressed the mantra "enough is enough".

"Don't complain about it, do something about," he said. "It's time someone shouted stop. Many have said to us that enough is enough.

"This must be addressed now more than any other GAA initiative. We have devoted time and energy to All-Star tours, promoting World Games, devising new forms of hurling, new rules. It's time now to begin the real work. Fix the fixtures."

The CPA have however yet to make a decision whether they will support Duffy's proposal, bound for Congress, to play the All-Ireland football final three weeks earlier, proposals that include playing All-Ireland semi-finals on the same weekend and extra-time in all Championship games except finals but incorporates a round-robin between eight quarter-finalists over three weekends in July and August.

"We don't think it (Duffy's proposal) goes far enough and we really, really think there needs to be radical changes," said Brennan. "I can see where he is coming from, step by step and make small changes and the extra-time and no replays, that's all positive.

"But at the end of the day there's a lot of monetary interests here and they're trying to create a buzz around the August weekend to bring in money for the Association. Our club games are as entertaining and need to be brought to the forefront at a better time of year."

Last year Duffy's revised document on the reform proposals described the monetary aspect as "lazy" analysis.

Brennan envisages an August Bank Holiday weekend conclusion but such a radical move would strip the month of August, as well as September from the huge promotional shop window that the GAA enjoys during this period.

He spoke of a "100-day plan" to help turn things around while an 'over-arching' fixtures body was also floated but finer detail has yet to be developed and made public.

"There's 2,319 clubs that have to wait on 32 counties," added Brennan. "Our thinking now today is that the 32 counties must wait on the 2,319 clubs."

For the moment they want to spread the message that they are in business and seeking to build a bigger movement. Kavanagh says they intend to provide watchdog duties over the next 12 months.

"At the moment it's anecdotal. Now, we have a mechanism to make sure we are tracking all of this and collating all of the actual facts," he said.

"We should, in a year's time, be able to give the average delay in club championship games across the country, which I think would be very powerful.

"Now, we'll have a pulse in every single county, something that wasn't there before. In theory, all the clubs are connected to the county board and all the county boards are connected to provincial councils and they are all connected up to Congress.

"In theory it's all there, but where is the data to say what's the average time between club championship games? That's the problem."

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