Vintage football year can't hide dark clouds over GAA
This has been a very good year for inter-county football. We had many games that were of high quality, where the traditional skills were more prominent than at any time since the turn of the century.
High fielding made a bit of a comeback, as did the art of kicking points from 30 to 50 yards. In addition, there were many games between counties who had never met before in the championship, thanks to the qualifiers.
Not surprisingly, some leading GAA officials have been gung-ho about how strong the Association now is, but a short period of reflection will soon show that lots of things happened in 2010 that the GAA should worry about over the winter hibernation period.
At national level the fact that none of the provincial champions progressed even as far as the All-Ireland semi-finals, for instance. It is clear now that we have a two-tier championship where the weaker counties aspire merely to win a provincial title, while the big guns, real or imagined, have the All-Ireland in their sights.
The value of provincial titles has been lessened as far as the major counties are concerned but the provincial finals still retain much of their old magic for lesser counties and the excitement this year in the lead-up -- and on the day -- of the Roscommon-Sligo Connacht final and Louth's presence in the Leinster decider proves this.
The darkest cloud in the GAA's sky this year was the awful refereeing standards. One major error, later admitted by the referee Martin Sludden, cost Louth their first Leinster title in 50 years and was a shocking travesty of justice.
The deed itself was bad enough, but the hypocrisy and cant that went on afterwards among the various GAA bodies who should have been working to rectify this terrible decision was appalling. They all stuck their heads in the sand and stayed there until eventually it was left to the Meath players to end the saga by refusing a replay. Had they made the opposite decision, they would have shamed all these spineless bodies.
The Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) is supposed to be the body in charge of fixtures at national level; we also had the Leinster Council involved, the Management Committee of the GAA, the Central Council and the Meath County Board.
All of these bodies failed to seriously address the fiasco, falling back on the old excuse of blaming the Official Guide of the GAA as a reason for ineptitude. As always it was the players on both teams who suffered because of the terrible cock-up by the referee, while the other GAA bodies did their Pontius Pilate act. The GPA also played an insignificant role.
They all claimed they did not have the power to do anything but I have seen many examples of power being pulled out of a hat by these bodies when it suited their interests.
Another pathetic result of that Leinster final was that nobody seems to have been punished for any of the things that happened on the field after the game.
There were many accusations made at the time about Meath players being assaulted and referee Sludden could be seen hanging around on the pitch for a long time taking names of Louth players. What has happened about these matters ?
The other atrocious decision came from the game's best referee, Pat McEnaney, when neither he nor his umpires saw anything wrong when Benny Coulter was inside the small square when he fisted a Down goal against Kildare.
In both these controversies the behaviour of the umpires was incomprehensible because they were only feet away from the incidents involved but still saw nothing wrong.
And even now the GAA seems to be reluctant to appoint inter-county referees as umpires simply because it has always been a 'perk' of the referee to appoint his own umpires regardless of age, eyesight or knowledge of the rules. It could only happen in the GAA of course!
There is an obvious solution to this particular problem regarding 'square balls' -- simply get rid of the rule and end all the controversies and blunders.
This year, yet again, we had several referees assaulted by spectators in Tipperary, Donegal and elsewhere. Many such incidents are never reported because the old GAA omerta still rules and often they are swept under the carpet.
But they are a huge blot on the good name of the GAA and raise serious concerns about the GAA's whole attitude to referees. There is a campaign to get young players to respect referees but there is a long way to go and many of the worst culprits are the parents of these children. Some example they get.
The biggest non-sports issue in the GAA in 2010 was undoubtedly the decision to prevent spectators coming on to the Croke Park pitch to celebrate after All-Ireland finals. This has hit at the very core of what the GAA has always stood for and has caused enormous resentment throughout Ireland.
The drastic way in which the matter was handled shocked many lifelong GAA followers and the bitterness has not waned, despite what the publicists for the GAA may claim.
In one fell blow, in draconian style with no compromise, barriers were erected at Hill 16 at a time when fences at sports stadiums all around the world are being removed.
Despite what GAA bosses stated, there were alternative options -- such as allowing followers on to the pitch 10 minutes after the game, when the trophy had been presented. I have a feeling this matter is not over yet, so strong has been the antagonism.
The GAA's greatest strength is the strong identity between supporters and players -- it is the very cornerstone of the GAA ethic and for the next few weeks thousands of fans will stream on to county grounds to celebrate with their clubs who win county championships -- as they have always done.
By their recent decision Croke Park has removed itself from the ordinary GAA follower on this matter and may well live to regret it.
We have had a wonderful football year alright -- but we still have some way to go.