Friday 9 December 2016

Time to turn oil tanker around before it runs aground

Published 06/03/2016 | 13:00

What's really needed now is a culture change. And changing the dates for the All-Ireland football and hurling finals is not going to bring that about.
What's really needed now is a culture change. And changing the dates for the All-Ireland football and hurling finals is not going to bring that about.

Like a large oil tanker, when the GAA sets its course in a particular direction, it takes a long time to turn around. And in the case of the inter-county scene, a fair head of steam has been built up so changing course will take time. But it will happen. It must happen.

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Why will it happen? Because the current state of affairs is not sustainable. Forget all the talk about Sky and television rights deals, and changing the dates of the All-Ireland finals. This is the small stuff.

What's really needed now is a culture change. And changing the dates for the All-Ireland football and hurling finals is not going to bring that about. Yes it was disappointing that last weekend's Congress failed to grasp the chance presented to it to make a statement on this by adopting this proposal but it was hardly suprising. Just as it was not a surprise that the same counties - and indeed the same voices - stood in the way again. But at least the latest instalment was a reminder that the GAA isn't always the democratic, grassroots-led organisation it is held up to be.

Let us imagine what the GAA could be like in 10 years' time.

1: The inter-county season does not need to be condensed

Attendances at games in the early weeks of January shows there is an appetite among the general public for inter-county matches, even in the so-called off-season. There is no reason the season cannot run for seven months of the year, finishing up as it currently does in September.

2: Keep the pre-season provincial competitions, only start them later

These would be the only province-based competitions. The League and Championship in both football and hurling to be merged into one competition.

3: Games should be properly spaced out over the seven-month season and club activity should continue right through this period

Players on county panels should be released back to their clubs every week for games. A mechanism should be put in place for clubs to be able to report directly to Croke Park if they are having difficulty having players released by a county manager.

4: County boards must get to grips with their county managers

Every county should have its league and championship fixtures prepapred and published by the end of February and these must be adhered to. Managers cannot demand cancellations or delays except if their team has reached an All-Ireland semi-final or final. The GAA should set up a template for each county taking account of its size and its commitment to one code or both and it must come down heavily on those counties which fall behind in providing a meaningful and consistent run of games to its clubs. Monetary fines do not work so better deterrents include withdrawing grants, reducing All-Ireland ticket allocations, etc.

5: Give greater power to clubs to influence GAA policy

There are too many examples of the GAA - at county conventions and at Congress - sleep-walking its way into bad decisions for alarm bells not to be ringing about the systems in place.

6: The GAA needs to become properly inclusive at club and county level

To achieve this, the Camogie Association and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association must be integrated into the GAA.

There is no justification for the huge variance in fees paid by men and women to play, or in the preferential treatment men receive in all aspects of the games, down to a basic requirement like pitch access.

This, we think, will get the GAA back on course.

Sunday Indo Sport

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