It's chaos out there
New survey reveals depth of players’ dissatisfaction with fixtures as chief Greene says ‘hard decisions’ must be taken in club versus county row
GAA players have spoken and they are not happy.
With many of them serving several masters in a multi-layered club and county competitions structure -- embracing two sports -- it's not surprising that scheduling problems arise but the extent of the dissatisfaction is at an all-time high.
Club players -- the silent majority -- only get to express their views locally so they will be pleased that the inter-county fraternity have spoken out so forcibly on behalf of everybody.
That their dissatisfaction is expressed as part of an initiative by the GAA to streamline fixture programmes across the entire spectrum makes it all the more worthwhile, as the feedback will form part of the proposals for change which the National Fixtures Planning Committee (NFPC) are formulating.
"We're listening to everybody. Fixtures have been a problem area for a long time so there's no quick fix but we're working hard to pull all the strands together to get the best possible deal for all our players -- club, county, school and college," said NFPC chairman John Greene.
There will be particular interest in the views of players who find themselves trapped in the current fixtures maze with no apparent way out. A total of 206 inter-county players responded to a wide-ranging survey where the club versus county problem attracted particularly critical comments.
Among the many complaints were: "players can't plan anything due to uncertainty of fixtures"; "as players, we are never asked about fixtures"; "clubs left idle during peak summer months and will opt for other more structured sports"; "chaos and anger at local level"; "club players treated with disdain."
Greene admitted that the NFPC's examination of the fixtures scene revealed some harsh realities which would have to be taken on board.
"We now know for certain that if we are to provide a first-class fixtures programme for club players, there will have to be hard decisions taken on inter-county and schools competitions," he said. Presumably, hard decisions equate to a cull.
He also believes that the system of scheduling national competitions first, followed by provincial, third-level and schools competitions, leaving county programmes at the bottom of the pyramid, has to be addressed.
"The national, provincial and schools competitions which cater for around 9,000 players get first choice whereas county boards, who cater for 400,000 players, have to take what's left. Our committee believe it should be the other way around," he said.
The NFPC has been working on various initiatives over the past 18 months, including the training of two fixtures planners in each county and a further two each in the four provinces.
The aim is to have all fixtures planners working off the same basic framework at county level, with the provincial councils maintaining a supervisory role -- while Croke Park would act as overall monitors.
"This is a slow business but we're getting there. By next year, we should see a big improvement in counties thanks to the fixtures planners, and inside another few years we'd be hopeful that the whole fixtures scene would be much healthier for all players," said Greene.
Changing practices takes time but the NFPC findings clearly demonstrate that the process must be accelerated.
The disillusionment among players over club versus county, as underlined by the player survey, is an issue which the NFPC has identified as in urgent need of attention. They even concede that it's having a negative impact on players' lives, which is "not sustainable if the association wishes to grow".
The survey used a number of key statements to draw reaction on the problems facing players at club level. The NFPC acknowledge that "the majority disagreed with every positive statement regarding club issues and agreed with every negative statement," an outcome which underlined the level of dissatisfaction and frustration that exists.
Interestingly, the players were happier with the National League format than the All-Ireland system, due mainly to the uncertainty of the summer programme and the impact it had on club activity.
Over three-quarters are happy with how the leagues are run but only half expressed satisfaction with the championship. Of particular concern was the long wait between some games, followed by a hectic run of activity in the qualifiers, leading to some counties having to play Qualifier ties six days after losing a provincial football final.
The breakdown of the 206 survey respondents was as follows: SF: 104; SH: 49; Ring/Rackard/Meagher Cups 49; Dual: 4.
The members of the NFPC are: John Greene (Longford) chairman, Michael Burns (Monaghan), Dominic McCaughey (Tyrone), Declan Bohan (Leitrim), Jimmy Dunne (Wicklow), Seamus O'Beirne (Wexford), Tony Cunningham (Meath), Fergal McGill (GAA Head of Games Administration, Croke Park), Bernard Smith (Croke Park), secretary.