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Eugene McGee: Five simple ways to stop the rot and boost GAA's appeal

At this time of the year, the going gets really tough for media people involved with Gaelic games. Most of them have to actually work for a living, so those of us included in the unfortunate media category of 'Gah writers' -- as we are so offhandedly described -- have to resort to an annual selection of articles which consists mainly of lists.

You know the stuff. Team of the year, best 15 players, best game of football or hurling, miss of the season, goals of the season, etc. The list can be endless, such is the intricate web of competitions that dominate GAA life.

In the old days, before GAA pubs in rural areas became wastelands because of changes in the laws that in effect have confined people to their homes, a lot of this media coverage formed the basis of many an intense debate/argument in an old-style licensed premises, festooned with photographs of national and local GAA teams who had achieved honours in bygone days.

That source of GAA repartee has largely gone now and it is the Sky coverage of the English Premier League that dominates life in most of these establishments.

So from September until May each year the heart and soul of GAA life is largely extinguished as regards the playing of games and all the discussion that this includes.

Now, I have written about this matter for many years on and off and when I first mentioned it over 20 years ago, GAA diehards laughed at the idea that there would ever be a shortage of publicity for GAA games.

'Sure isn't the football and the hurling the backbone of sport in this country so what are you talking about,' would be a typical summing-up of these 'Fior Ghaels' then.

complacent

But now, after many years of Premier League coverage added to by massive rugby exposure via the very successful Heineken Cup and Magners League, these complacent voices have been largely stilled.

When national newspapers, big or small, devote five or six times as much coverage to other sports as to GAA games, then surely it must send alarm bells ringing in the corridors of county boards, provincial councils and higher GAA bodies?

There are no visible signs that this is the case, as the GAA as a body continue in blissful ignorance of the amazing situation whereby hardly any inter-county games are provided in at least four months of the year -- October, November, December and January -- with all due respects to the secondary competitions in the latter month.

And with the exception of a few games, you can add September to that.

The GAA obviously encourage this period of inactivity, as we saw when they introduced the 'closed season' in November and December, but we can safely predict that this fiasco will be undone or altered by next November.

But getting back to the avalanche of topics which media people have to resort to in the depths of winter, most of these are in the form of wishes and aspirations about what might be done to improve GAA life.

The GAA have a fairly dire record in recent years at getting modest rule changes badly wrong, such as the 'closed season' episode.

However, there are matters that could actually be addressed by the GAA that would greatly please the fans, and in some cases players and managers, with no rule changes involved.

So here goes:

1Stop abusing the Irish language by forcing compulsory Irish on fans who buy expensive match programmes. There seems to be a growing tendency to have names of players only in Irish and even more so the names of the players' clubs. Most GAA fans are fond of promoting Irish but names of people and places can often be impossible to understand in stand-alone Irish versions. So use Irish and English please.

2 Make use of all the floodlight grounds now available: 19 county grounds as well as Croke Park now have floodlights but they are grossly under-used -- bearing in mind that the guts of €20m has been spent on these white elephants. Surely the GAA or provincial councils could organise high-powered competitions under lights from October until February with live TV coverage? The entire U-21 championship could be played midweek under lights also, which would greatly help club fixtures.

3 The GAA should stop punishing smaller/ weaker counties by treating all counties as equal, regardless of population. In the coming weeks there will be examples of young players lining out for their counties at U-21 level on a Saturday, then having to play important NFL games the following day. Now that can lead to real burnout -- but is being allowed to continue. A tiny county like Longford (population 34,000), for instance, is punished much more severely by this behaviour than big counties like Meath, Kildare or Dublin, who can afford to rest the players involved in one of the games.

4 Admission prices must be reduced still further at all levels in the GAA. I know a lot is being done already, but 2011 will be the harshest year financially for ordinary families in our lifetime and the GAA should do even more. The size of match programmes should also be reduced and, except for major games, no programme should cost more than €1, by simply publishing accurate team line-ups. That's all most fans need, not major 'literary' works more suited to the local library.

5 Is there any chance at all that the GAA will skip a century and play some music at matches that might impress the thousands of young fans they GAA needs so desperately to influence? Pipe bands are so last century!

So we can see that there are many things the GAA could do that would impress the fans who keep the GAA going with their admission money.

A little imagination regarding smaller matters from GAA bodies, rather than spending still more millions on grounds etc, would show that lots of things could be done at little cost and without every little Mickey Mouse item having to be sponsored.

Why not stand on our own two feet for a few years?

Irish Independent