Wednesday 28 June 2017

Martin Breheny: Club players preparing for war

CPA proposals will need to be creative beyond cutting back on county action

Dubs Stars’ Stephen Smith is tackled by Dublin’s Conor Mullally, Ross McGowan and Niall Scully during the New Year’s Day clash. The CPA will focus minds on issues like the training-to-game ratio for all county players. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Dubs Stars’ Stephen Smith is tackled by Dublin’s Conor Mullally, Ross McGowan and Niall Scully during the New Year’s Day clash. The CPA will focus minds on issues like the training-to-game ratio for all county players. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The movement is gathering and now it's time to march. The Club Players' Association (CPA) will be launched officially at Ballyboden St Enda's on Dublin's southside next Monday when Monaghan man Declan Brennan and various others will outline how the new organisation plans to function.

The CPA's origins are easily traceable. Basically, club players have become utterly disillusioned with haphazard fixture schedules.

There are also the long gaps between games in summer when local championship programmes close down until inter-county teams have completed their All-Ireland runs.

It's a mess, which is why frustration levels have boiled so high that there's certain to be widespread support for the CPA and its laudable aim of becoming the "voice of club players, to protect their well-being by delivering an unchangeable fixtures programme within a shorter season for every club player."

We look forward to hearing further details on how it aims to achieve that. Here's a thought though. Aren't mechanisms to protect club players' interests already in place?

They are called county boards, which are made up almost exclusively of club representatives.

So if you have a roomful of delegates, each representing a club, making decisions on how best to run a county's affairs, it seems logical to assume that all strands of activity would be catered for. Why is it not happening?

It's easy to blame Croke Park or provincial councils for allowing the inter-county programme interfere with club games but the reality is that most of the responsibility rests at local level.

That's where decisions are made to clear the decks of club activity in order to allow the county manager weeks - indeed months in some cases - of uninterrupted access to the top players.

Obviously no club will play a championship game without its county player(s) so little happens on the local scene until the county team is finished.

Why have clubs allowed that? They have the power to stop it but tend to go with the flow which holds that the county team must be given every chance to do as well as possible in the All-Ireland championships.

That's an issue in itself since most managers will argue that allowing them full access to the top players for as long as they deem necessary is in the best interests of the county on a number of levels, including the positive spin-off from an extended championship run.

If a county board ran club campaigns in tandem with the provincial/All-Ireland series they would be accused of wrecking the county team's prospects. All the more so if they were beaten by opposition that had cleared the decks for the county team.

Condensing the inter-county programme has been mooted as a means of creating more space for club action but is it that simple? Hardly. Counties started to exit last year's SFC on June 18 and, by August 1, only six remained.

Yet, only two county finals were played by October 1. Why the long delays? The arrival of the CPA will certainly concentrate minds on the club problem but no solution will be found unless some very tough decisions are taken.

Blameless

Those include a possible realigning the provinces so that all four have the same number of counties, thus making it easier to streamline competition structures. Alternatively, scrap the provincials altogether.

There's also a need to bring the training-to-game ratio for inter-county panels back from its current disproportionate state and an insistence that club and county championships run simultaneously, something that would only work if forced on all counties.

Clubs aren't blameless for the mess either. What about the ones who don't want to play championship games in the summer because some of their players have gone overseas?

Or those who seek a change because of a stag weekend or a wedding? As for dual players, can championships be held up to accommodate them?

Ideally, yes, but hardly in the packed fixtures environment that prevails. It will be interesting to hear the CPA's plans but, if they're to be successful - or indeed positive for the GAA - they must extend well beyond shortening the inter-county season.

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