Monday 20 January 2020

Colm O'Rourke: Rules shambles shows up futility of Congress 'debate'

Quelle surprise, democracy didn't get a look-in at Congress, says Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

L ast week I decided not to comment on the fate of the new rules at Congress until the smoke had stopped coming out of my ears.

The dismissive way the proposed new rules were dispatched to the bin must have been highly insulting to those who had put a lot of work into them. Not only that but the whole illogical process must have rankled too.

It is fine in principle to have a weekend out for the GAA's foot soldiers -- they all deserve at least that much -- but when major decisions are being made it makes no sense to rely on such an unwieldy process. Surely a body like Central Council should make all big decisions. Any item of importance should be discussed and decided in each county and the Central Council delegate should then vote accordingly.

What is happening at present in Congress is the absolute opposite of democracy. How many counties actually debated these proposals? How many county boards sent notification to their clubs to call a meeting to discuss these playing rules proposals and then sought their views? Very, very few. Instead, it was left to many delegations on the day to make up their minds. Did any board executive sit down with their county footballers and seek their views on the rules?

One of the motions concerned the proposed change to the square ball rule, the one change which created a bit of excitement in the league as players chased in high balls. The only ones who seemed to have any objection to this rule were goalkeepers, who are totally over-protected anyway. Having to contest the odd high ball with incoming forwards was good for the game and easier on referees. And if the goalie ended up in the back of the net occasionally, then all the better. Did anyone ask the referees? A return to the old system would have seen Benny Coulter's goal for Down last Sunday disallowed.

So what we had at Congress was a debate on the playing rules involving a large group of mainly men, most of whom presumably never asked any of the players what they thought. Did anyone ask the referees who implemented the new rules during the Leagues which, if any, they would like to hold on to? Did the GPA make any contribution? They should have carried out a survey of players and made a submission to Congress. Whether it would have had any impact is another thing.

So if someone raises the issue of Congress being the ultimate in democracy, then include me out of the applause. County boards in general still don't trust players enough to ask their opinions and so we end up with people making decisions on rules who may not have any concept of how they impact on the pitch. It is always easier to vote against everything in that type of scenario. Of course a couple got through which will have a minor impact. It is a great pity that a bit of enlightenment was not brought to proceedings.

The mark was badly framed. If the player had the option of playing on it would have a future, but the square ball rule change was great for the game. And the GAA must be the only field game in the world where there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the rules and yet debate on them is only allowed every five years. Why so? Of course there are some who feel the present form of handpassing makes for a great game but I won't put my hand up for that one either.

It was always going to be difficult to get the fistpass through. Players and managers are not interested in a long-term view of the game and so don't want anything that may prove to be a problem for them to coach even if players during the league appeared to learn quickly enough. Managers could teach old dogs new tricks -- if they wanted to.

Meanwhile, the Allianz Football Leagues finished last weekend. The leagues are a bit like the month of March -- they come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. The only high points were Divisions 3 and 4. Smashing games involving players who took great pride in getting the opportunity to turn out in Croke Park.

The chance to play in their stadium of dreams should not be underestimated. I saw it with our players in the All-Ireland colleges semi-final. As big a disappointment as being beaten was losing the chance to play in Croke Park because, like it or not, the opportunity won't come again for the vast majority.

Sligo looked very impressive while the game between Limerick and Waterford was most enjoyable. Maybe next year all the finals should be on the one day. Start off at 12 and let people come and go as they please. Sunday's fare, on the other hand, was embarrassing. By the time the big match started, more than half the crowd had gone. Armagh and Down had seen

enough, their supporters headed north and emptied the ground. Nevertheless, they will both be contenders in Ulster. Armagh's strongest asset is still Stevie McDonnell; however, he may also be their Achilles heel. They will soon need someone else to take a share of the load up front and, with Ronan Clarke in trouble with injury, they need another scorer.

The big match was a complete flop. The trials and tribulations of Mayo continue and on this evidence there is no quick fix. Cork stepped up a division from last year and won comfortably but a league is not what they want. There is only one opponent in their sights, and they don't have to look very far.

From that point of view, the strong showing of men like James O'Sullivan, Aidan Walsh and Ciarán Sheehan will have many Cork people thinking that with such a strong panel they are more than capable of overthrowing the Kerry dictatorship.

The view of course is that when Nicholas Murphy, Graham Canty and Anthony Lynch come back the team will even be better. Maybe Conor Counihan has other ideas. He may feel this is now the first-choice team with the possible addition of John Miskella in defence. I have a feeling that the Cork management feel that new players are needed to beat Kerry and that those three big names have had plenty of chances against the Kingdom.

There are interesting selection meetings ahead for Cork and a lot of hard choices to be made.

Sunday Independent

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