Saturday 24 March 2018

Joe Brolly: GAA hierarchy focuses on the elite and leaves the Crap 25 to fend for themselves

The Super 8 model is suited to professional sport like soccer, where audience is king, elitism is the abiding principle and participation is irrelevant
The Super 8 model is suited to professional sport like soccer, where audience is king, elitism is the abiding principle and participation is irrelevant

Joe Brolly

With the advent of the Crap 25 next summer, the GAA hierarchy continues to steer us towards the end of the GAA as a community organisation. Or rather, hang onto the steering wheel as it freewheels downhill.

Increasingly, the GAA is benefiting only the footballing bourgeoisie and commercial interests. This is merely a microcosm of what is happening across the world, where unchecked capitalism is not working for the vast majority of people and governments are unwilling to address the problem. The result is seething discontent around the planet, currently seen in mass protests across Europe and in America. The twin problems are unchecked commercialism and the promotion of elitism.

In spite of the fact that both are the opposite of what the GAA is about, they are now well on the way to conquering us. Anyone who points this out, either in general society or in the GAA, is described as a crank and a scare-mongerer.

The establishment continues to use the language of community and empathy as a pretence that everything is fine. So, a conservative prime minister will say the NHS is the jewel in the crown of British society, even while she is systematically dismantling it. Everything possible is being done to solve the problem of homelessness they say, even as we see the streets littered with our fellow human beings, their faces cut and bruised, shorn of all dignity.

In the same way, the GAA hierarchy describe the ordinary Gaels and clubs as "the lifeblood of the GAA", yet we have never felt more disenfranchised and disillusioned. The hierarchy, like the government, is powerless, with no idea how to turn the tide. When you don't know how to turn it, all you can do is surf it.

The CPA howls at the moon. People like me or Michael Duignan or Colm O'Rourke are patronised as being "characters" to be taken with a pinch of salt, or vaguely dismissed as having an agenda.

The GAA leaders are good people. Their hearts are in the right place. They just don't know what to do. A big part of the problem is the ridiculous governance structure. Instead of a board of directors, with people of capacity and vision, we have an antiquated and unworkable system. So, instead of being able to move swiftly and decisively to deal with problems and create strategy, we drift along at a snail's pace.

A small but good example of this inertia is the black card. It was brought in, then instead of being carefully monitored and tweaked, it was left to fester. Bits of it sort of work, the important bit doesn't work at all. So, there is no punishment for depriving someone of a clear goal- or point-scoring opportunity (the crucial things), the punishment is too harsh for a trip or pull-down away from the play and off the ball, and the result is that the GAA public has become disillusioned with what started out as a good idea.

The Super 8/Crap 25 are merely the most obvious symptoms of the problem. The big issues are a county game and season that has got out of control, rampant elitism promoting excellence over participation, a dysfunctional county scene for 90 per cent of counties, a dysfunctional club scene for 100 per cent of clubs, unchecked and unprincipled commercialism, and the consequent alienation of ordinary GAA folk.

Yet the only achievements of the hierarchy in the past decade are Sky, the Super 8/Crap 25, and a hugely enriched and powerful GPA. All of these have filled the void caused by the failure of the hierarchy to create a fit-for-purpose strategy for the 21st century. The GAA is being systematically overpowered, its antiquated structure being overwhelmed by the business world.

We have now reached the point where the hierarchy's GAA year begins in August and ends in September. The hierarchy will boast (see the next annual report from the DG) that we had sell-out football semi-finals and final, and that the games are going from strength to strength. Everything else is more or less irrelevant, because selling the semi-finals and finals, getting the sponsorship around them, and bringing in the money to hit the annual targets is the easy bit.

A handful of big crowds at Croke Park, a handful of rock concerts, job done, feet up, roll on next summer. And in the off-season, plenty of rhetoric about the clubs being the lifeblood of the Association, just to keep things ticking over until the summer.

GAA people are getting angry and disenchanted. A decade ago there was tremendous respect and a deep feeling that our leaders would never let us down, but that has quickly been eroded. We see now that the Association is either being dismantled by outside interests or sold off to them bit by bit.

The Super 8 was strongly pushed by Sky. Watch next year as they get at least 50 per cent of those games. Never mind that the football quarter-finals on Sky last Saturday had only a quarter of the average viewing audience for the camogie quarter-finals shown on RTé 2 at the same time. Put another way, there were more people at the games in Croke Park than watched them on Sky.

The Super 8 model is suited to professional sport like soccer, where audience is king, elitism is the abiding principle and participation is irrelevant. Promote the top teams, increase the viewing audience, generate more income, and keep the Crap 25 out of sight and mind. Who the hell wants to watch Leitrim or Derry or Antrim or Carlow on TV? Or what about a Clare v Wicklow, London v Tipperary doubleheader? In fairness to Páraic and the lads, the more I think of it, it's hard to make a Sky Super Sunday out of Sligo v Longford followed by Westmeath v Fermanagh.

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