Monday 24 October 2016

Proposals for change make sense but is GAA up for them?

Published 09/11/2015 | 02:30

A view of the rain-soaked goalmouth in O’Moore Park yesterday as Sarsfields players gather for their team talk ahead of the clash with Portlaoise
A view of the rain-soaked goalmouth in O’Moore Park yesterday as Sarsfields players gather for their team talk ahead of the clash with Portlaoise

In large organisations there are always conflicting attitudes as to how they conduct their affairs and usually there is a section that wants to preserve the status quo and oppose change while the other section demands that things be done differently. The GAA is a classic example of this genre.

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But few national organisations devote so much time and attention in that regard as the GAA. Constantly there is a large and growing sector that wants change to just about everything relating to football in particular. On the other side there is the conservative wing that preaches the philosophy that what was good enough in the past is good enough now.

Unfortunately, there is no proper structure in the GAA for reconciling those disparate views other than tinkering around with one of the hundreds of rules in the association's Official Guide and that undoubtedly leads to frustration among young members especially.

Last week, the man who should be called CEO of the GAA (instead it's Director-General), Paraic Duffy, made an attempt to move change in a different direction by proposing a set of alterations that are an amalgamation of up to 10 committees that have discussed possible changes over the past decade.


What he is proposing is not revolutionary, nor is it rocket science. In fact, compared with the problems the GAA has, the proposals are minimal. Nobody has a better grasp of the GAA's problems as Duffy because he is the person who has to listen to all the myriad ideas and proposals that keep crying out for changes. His contribution merely touched a handful of ideas but we must assume that they are the most important as he sees it.

The first thing most GAA people do when change is mooted is to object. This is not unusual in Irish life of course and it is always easier to argue against someone else's ideas than to come up with original ones of your own. This became all so obvious last week in the reactions to Duffy's points.

There is one other important caveat in the GAA worth noting. The organisation is never willing to scrap any competition at any level.Instead, they keep adding on extra competitions willy-nilly.

This is at the core of the Duffy proposals - that we have far too many competitions; there is not enough time to play them off in a properly organised way and we end up like this weekend where Waterford football champions Stradbally won their county final on Friday night and had to play the first round of the Munster championship against Nemo Rangers the following day, a farcical situation.

The U-21 competition's proposed removal is Duffy's major one. Before people start raving mad about the idea - as some prominent officials have already done - let us look at the origins of the U-21 grade.

It was started in 1965 for a particular reason - to bridge the gap between minor (U-18) and the senior grade. At that time it was a very good idea because then only a tiny minority of players had access to third-level. But, nowadays, about 90pc of players from 18 to 21 are involved in GAA games at third level where they receive excellent coaching and competitive games at high level. So, the original purpose is now largely obsolete.

U-21 merely replicates what is being done at third level and that is exactly why it's one of the main sources of player burnout in February and March. In most counties, nowadays, young men aged 20-21 - provided they are good enough - can easily take their place on senior county panels.

The proposal to play extra-time in inter-county championship games is also a necessity if we're ever to get a proper fixtures schedule, with the possible exception of All-Ireland finals.

The strict curbing of county panel numbers to 2 on match days is a first step to giving some clout back to the clubs who've been disgracefully treated over the past 20 years since county managers in effect took control of club fixture-making in many counties.

In the light of recent club happenings it is surely a no-brainer to finish all competitions in the calendar year, as happens in nearly every other sport, and the objectors are people who take easy fixture decisions instead of enforcing their own already decided rules.

It will be very difficult for Duffy's proposals to be passed by a GAA Congress with that ridiculous rule that requires a 66pc majority for change.

But, at least, it will prove whether or not GAA people at large are prepared to make changes that are in line with current-day sporting practice.

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