Thursday 24 August 2017

Tomás Ó Sé: The decision to reject shortening of GAA calendar is insane - It's democracy on steroids

Club player still treated as after-thought following last weekend's rejections

Tomás Ó Se

Tomás Ó Se

I'm thinking I might be ready for the junk yard, that it could be all the dignity I have left.

You see, when the young bucks look at me across a dressing room, the last thing I want is them wondering if they've taken a wrong turn into the wax museum. I'm 37 going on 38, burning oil, with a big decision to make. To retire or go for one last run with the bulls.

Congress has pushed me towards the former. Because the biggest issue facing the GAA today is an ongoing fixtures crisis that last weekend's events in Carlow did little to allay. If I jump, my last game of football will have been played on a filthy November day in Mallow, so bad you'd think twice about putting cattle out to graze.

Imagine if that game between Nemo against Clonmel Commercials had been played in August? Instead we endured the most awful conditions I can ever remember playing football in. Cold, wet and windy, fingers still numb coming off the field. A joke. It brought home loud and clear to me the place of club players in the GAA hierarchy. They are bottom of the ladder. The lowest rung.

We played our first club championship game last season in the middle of May. Our next? Middle of August. All we were doing when the pitches were at their best was running around them. I remember three fellas coming in one night, saying they were going on holidays. Just sick to the teeth of waiting.

Oblivious

Trooping off the pitch after the last year’s Munster club championship – it could well be my last campaign. Photo: Eóin Noonan / Sportsfile
Trooping off the pitch after the last year’s Munster club championship – it could well be my last campaign. Photo: Eóin Noonan / Sportsfile

It was nobody's fault but the schedule. We knew that. We'd get texts that there "might" be a game looming if Cork hurlers were knocked out of the championship. It opened my eyes to a world I'd been oblivious to all my life.

The club player routinely gets treated like an after-thought. It happened again last weekend.

I think Páraic Duffy is, arguably, the most progressive director-general the Association has ever had, but you could detect his frustration with how things panned out in Carlow. He's produced an extensive dossier looking to address player burnout and improve the lot of the club man, and it must feel now as if he's been trying to sell nuclear physics to an art class.

Now Congress didn't exactly turn its back on the appetite for change. I appreciate that. But the need for a 66pc majority to pass any motion meant that that appetite had to represent a rumble, not a murmur. And it's a crying shame that rumble never materialised.

The potentially helpful motions, like the removal of a replay option from all championship games bar All-Ireland and provincial finals and the bringing forward of All-Ireland finals by two weeks were defeated, despite winning a sizeable majority of votes and having Central Council backing.

This is insane. It's democracy on steroids. In any man's language, 51pc is a majority. But, in the GAA world, it's not even close. There has to be a better way. You have so many smart, progressive people in the GAA, yet the real decision-making process keeps returning to a giant, unwieldly committee.

Could we not just put our trust in a smaller, more select body? I know it would fly in the face of tradition but would taking the power away from Congress really be such a bad thing? I don't think it would. To me, in the modern world, Congress's approach to administration is no longer fit for purpose.

Everyone goes there with their own agenda, which is human nature. I mean do we honestly believe a provincial council representative is likely to vote in favour of something with the potential to diminish that body's revenue? Not a chance. Selfishness is understandable.

But it's an absolute disgrace how club players continue to be treated. I'll hold my hand up here and acknowledge that the full extent of that disgrace wasn't apparent to me until I stopped playing inter-county. For 17 years with Kerry, that never entered my head.

An inter-county player doesn't see the training his club colleagues do. You're maybe parachuted back in for a championship game, but you've no real grasp of the effort your team-mates have invested to be there alongside you. Now I know. Now I understand the incredible frustration of training for an aspirational schedule.

And I'm not sure that Congress is the body to be addressing that.

Never once as a player did I really look on Congress as anything to do with me. If I'm honest, I just had a vision in my head of grey people going about pretty grey business. To this day, I don't understand the politics of it. It just feels as if delegates exist in a kind of parallel universe to those of us who play. They do their thing, we do ours.

I was never once asked for my opinion on anything to do with Congress, nor did I want to be. There has always been a sense of separation there between administrators and players. And it strikes me that that was manifest in spades last weekend.

Sometimes, I get the impression that Congress votes for change on things that don't really matter and puts its head in the sand when it comes to things that do.

Bugbear

On that note, the introduction of the 'mark' leaves me cold. I can't see how it will have any impact on the great, modern bugbear of the game - packed defences. I've said before that I, personally, love how tactical the game has become, that I consider it a natural progression which reached a high point with Jim McGuinness and Donegal winning the 2012 All-Ireland.

In my view, Eamonn Fitzmaurice, Jim Gavin, Malachy O'Rourke and Mickey Harte are bringing that tactical side of the game forward all of the time. Yes, teams are more defensive now, but the game is actually more interesting than it was when, say, Kerry and Dublin were the only ones with a prayer of winning Sam Maguire.

The best teams are still winning and you'll still have the Conor McManuses, the Gooches, the Bernard Brogans of this world kicking unbelievable scores. So, to my mind, the rules of the game should be just left alone.

But here we are now borrowing something from Aussie Rules. The 'mark' isn't part of our game and, while I'd be happy to see it trialed, I can't help wonder if its introduction is a gesture to justify the work of the Playing Rules Committee. Maybe it will serve a purpose if it stops players being swarmed when they land after a high catch, but it also carries the threat of slowing everything down.

In any event, most teams don't go long with kick-outs today and I'm not sure any will change that tactic now. It might suit Kerry with the likes of David Moran and Anthony Maher as targets, but most will still use their goalkeeper like a quarterback. Trust me, people will spend more and more time devising short kick-outs.

Maybe the rules committee reckon that this will magically create a whole new generation of Mick O'Connells. It won't. The game is very different now and, in any event, I think there's still plenty of high-fielding as things stand.

It reminds me of the new handpass rule they brought in at short notice in 2010. It was a joke. I remember thinking at the time, 'Whoever introduced this doesn't play football!' It just created confusion for referees and, midway through the season, it was as if they were all brought into a room and told to simply forget about it.

So, if those who administrate Gaelic football think the 'mark' is what the game needs now, I'd suggest they're out of touch. It seems to me that everything in the GAA is moving forward, except the law-makers.

One motion that was passed was that reducing the minor grade age from under 18 to under 17 and I can see the positives of that in relation to those in Leaving Cert year. But I worry a little that it may lead to an even younger conditioning of our players because I don't think we're monitoring young guys closely enough in terms of their use of weights. That's reflected in the disproportionate amount of injuries now being suffered.

I see huge men now at under 16 level who can barely kick a ball 20 yards. Kids are being put on weights far too young. There's about ten players injured on the Kerry under 21 panel at the moment, young fellas with degenerative knee problems and the like. Why? That can't be right.

Personally, I would have scrapped under 21 and minor, replacing them with an under 19 competition. I think there's just too much competitive pressure being put on young fellas far too soon.

But then I'm not an administrator, never have been, probably never will be. My only experience is as a player. Makes me ill-qualified I suppose.

Irish Independent

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