Thursday 17 August 2017

Don't say that you weren't warned

John Greene

John Greene

The ferocity of former Kilkenny hurler Eddie O'Connor's attack on GAA president Christy Cooney last week was quite startling. O'Connor called Cooney a "gobshite" and a "hypocrite" for describing payments to managers as "a cancer running through" the Association.

In a stinging rebuke of Cooney and director-general Páraic Duffy, O'Connor said the duo should carry out their work for the GAA for free, or at least on vastly reduced salaries. "Some of the people in Croke Park, they're not in touch with reality at all. Dopes, really is what they are. They're not in touch with the people on the ground. It's the people on the ground doing all the work."

O'Connor said clubs and counties know what they can and can't afford. "If a county board wants to bring in an outside manager to do a job, that's their entitlement. It's up to each county if they feel the need for an outside manager. Each county makes its own decision, each club makes its own decision and it's none of the business of the hierarchy of the GAA after that."

O'Connor won two All-Ireland medals with Kilkenny hurlers, first in 1992 and then a year later he had the honour of raising the Liam MacCarthy Cup as captain following victory over Galway. The county board chairman at the time was Nickey Brennan, who later became team manager and, later still, GAA president. Brennan too spoke publicly about the issue of payments to managers, but I haven't been able to find any public outburst from O'Connor calling his countyman a gobshite, a hypocrite or a dope.

Nor is hypocrisy an accusation Kilkenny GAA folk should be bandying about the place given the county's ongoing suppression of Gaelic football to retain its status as the number one hurling county. (Following on from the senior footballers failing to score in a National League game against Leitrim in February, the minor footballers last weekend failed to score in a Leinster championship game, conceding 7-17 to Wexford.)

But perhaps the most curious thing about the outburst was the timing. Cooney's performance at Congress last weekend caught many observers by surprise. He gave a strong address, lasting over an hour, which contained radical solutions to some of the problems facing the GAA, including redrawing provincial boundaries, breaking up Dublin County Board to help the county deal with its massive population, and removing weaker counties from the National Hurling League to allow them focus on improving their club structures.

More impressive, however, was that a concerted campaign by Cooney and Duffy to ensure that delegates voted on critical motions with their eyes open seemed to make a difference, even if not all of the final outcomes were to their liking.

In the past, major decisions at Congress were taken by delegates, many of whom did not grasp the full consequences of them, or, more often than not, without having been instructed by the clubs in their home county. One of the most infamous of these was the decision to exclude Division 4 teams from the football qualifiers in 2007, which was reversed a year later such was the outcry.

There were some motions at Congress last weekend which were a direct threat to the amount of time available to club football and hurling and Cooney and Duffy challenged the grassroots to be aware of this. Among these were proposals to introduce a back-door system in the under 21 championship, to reintroduce semi-finals in the Allianz Leagues and to revert to having replays instead of extra-time in certain championship games.

Delegates were well warned in advance that in approving any, or all, of these motions they would add to the number of weekends required for inter-county games and so reduce further the limited time available to play club games.

The outcome was mixed. Replays will return in all drawn provincial first-round and quarter-final games, as well as All-Ireland quarter-finals, and semi-finals were restored only to Division 1 of the football and hurling leagues. The proposal to introduce a back door in the under 21 championship was defeated.

So, next year, if club footballers and hurlers feel the squeeze on their fixtures' programme, no one can hide behind last weekend's decisions and say they didn't realise what would happen. Delegates were well warned. When they voted for the restoration of replays, which presumably was based on the additional revenue they bring in, Cooney (pictured) said: "I hope we won't regret this." But he knows ordinary club players will regret it, they will be the ones to suffer.

At least this time clubs will know who to blame -- their own representatives, and when the opportunity comes to take them to task at annual convention later in the year, it should not be let pass. Did all those who voted in favour of these changes do so with the backing of their clubs? That's the first question they should answer.

There were no semi-finals for this year's leagues. That meant there was a weekend for club games in football last week and hurling this week. Most counties had a full programme of football games last weekend, with some even playing a round of championship fixtures.

So there are plenty of dopes, hypocrites and gobshites in the GAA alright, it's just that the men with the megaphones are looking in all the wrong places.

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