Eugene McGee: Unchecked manager power making club players suffer
While the GAA community in Kildare is aghast at what is happening in their county, the GAA as a whole should be very concerned at this latest turn of events.
Last week, we heard that Donegal manager Jim McGuinness was in serious discussions with his own county board and later with the clubs of the county. What he is reportedly looking for is the right to decide how the Donegal SFC should be organised.
His latest request is that two rounds should be played in April and no more games allowed until Donegal's participation in the All-Ireland championship is over, which could be the end of September.
This is one of the extreme examples of what has been happening in many counties in recent years, whereby the demands of the county manager are allowed to over-ride the wishes of all other sections of the GAA in the county.
In Tyrone in recent years, their county championship has often not started until August-September. In Dublin this year, a couple of football championship games were played in April and then the competition was put on ice until after the All-Ireland final. Less dramatic disruptions of club games occur in many other counties as fixtures' committees have their arms twisted to postpone club games at the request of managers – and this despite a new rule passed at Congress this year that the final decision in club fixture-making now rests with each county's CCC (Competitions Control Committee) rather than the county boards.
In Kildare's case, the relationship between Kieran McGeeney and the Kildare clubs has always been frosty to say the least, and this played a vital role in his departure last week.
What these complaints have in common is the power of team managers. Quite simply, the managers run the show in many counties through the control they can exert over their panels. This has sneaked into the GAA almost without anybody noticing over the past 30 years or so as the powers of these men grew and grew.
But nowadays, that managerial power is very obvious and the clubs of Ireland in general are not happy. Unfortunately, in the absence of a proper relationship between managers and clubs, friction and often open warfare is common in some counties, as we saw last week. It will be interesting in Donegal to see if either McGuinness or the clubs will give way on this issue or if the manager walks away if he does not get his demands.
The proportion of county players within the playing adult community in the GAA is around 2pc. Yet the remaining 98pc often find themselves sitting on their backsides for weeks on end at the height of the summer because managers will not allow county players to assist their clubs.
It is unreasonable to expect a club with county players to play a championship game without these lads, so the game is called off.
Most managers insist on their county players abstaining from club activity for several weeks before a big county game, and therein lies the crux. In many other sports, playing on successive weekends is not a problem, and indeed it happened in hurling this year because of replays.
Players themselves will always tell you that they would be happy to play games every week, and GAA statistics recently showed there is a totally disproportionate imbalance between training and playing games.
It is interesting that several leading county managers who adopt the 'wrapped in cotton wool' approach to their county men then boast about the open warfare level of internal training games or challenge games they play shortly before a big match.
One such game between Monaghan and Mayo prior to the Ulster final is legendary – and Monaghan went on to beat All-Ireland champions Donegal. So if the players can 'slaughter' each other at county training, why can't club matches be played closer to big county games when injury risks are no greater?
It is time for the GAA to take a stronger line with managers in relation to their control over club fixtures in particular.
We all know each county board is autonomous and make their own rules about county's fixtures but if county boards cannot control managers, then who exactly is running the GAA in those counties?
Club players are left extremely annoyed every year and maybe they need a new organisation themselves – the Club Players Association? – with a substantial cut from the GPA grant from the GAA to be given to the ignored 98pc.
In general, team managers use their control over players admirably, with Brian Cody being the classic example, and it is hardly a coincidence that the Kilkenny hurling championship is run off regularly over the summer months.
But there are managers who seem to have inordinate power over their county panels, almost to the extent of controlling all aspects of their lives. In an amateur sport, this is not acceptable.
Players should have rights of their own and I believe many of them would prefer to play club championship games regularly in the summer but are not allowed.
The honour of playing for your parish in a club championship game has often been therapeutic for county players struggling to recover their form, because they are playing with friends they grew up with.
Maybe more managers should bear this in mind more often.