Controversial, Contrived, Convoluted, Confusing...
CCCC's baffling decision to block Dublin-Mayo Friday night fixture throws up more questions than answers, writes Martin Breheny
WHAT a confusing week in GAA land. For reasons totally devoid of logic, Croke Park managed to turn an enterprising initiative and a glorious marketing opportunity into an embarrassing own goal which, however often it is reviewed, still leaves the unanswered question: how the hell did they concede that?
Dublin, with Mayo's generous co-operation, planned to bring forward their Allianz Football League game from tomorrow week to next Friday night.
They believed that a Friday night fixture during the extended St Patrick's weekend would slot snugly into the sporting schedule between the AIB All-Ireland club finals on Thursday and the Ireland-England rugby international on Saturday.
"We were ready to drive it hard to get the best possible crowd," said Dublin CEO John Costello. "We believe it would have been a huge success on all fronts, but mostly in terms of promoting the GAA over a weekend where obviously there will be a big focus on the Ireland-England rugby game. There were no downsides as far as we could see."
Initially, Mayo were unable to accommodate the switch due to the possibility of their U-21s having a Connacht championship game next Saturday, but once that was sorted out, James Horan and his squad were quite happy to play on the Friday night.
Normally, when the two competing counties agree to a switch and it doesn't impact on others, the GAA's fixture-makers (Central Competitions Control Committee) approve it, but not this time. Ignoring the Friday night novelty factor, which would generate lots of favourable media coverage and positive marketing, the CCCC said 'no'.
Explaining that it would be unfair to ask players (especially the Mayo men who faced a long trip) to give up part of their working day to travel for a game which could just as easily be played on the Sunday, the CCCC took up a case on behalf of people who weren't objecting in the first place.
The CCCC also included match officials and stewards on their list of affected parties who, apparently, would have been seriously discommoded by the switch.
Frankly, the argument doesn't hold up on any front. If Mayo or Dublin players were happy with the new arrangement, why did the CCCC generate a bogus argument on their behalf?
As for match officials, surely it would be possible to get a referee and other officials for a Friday night fixture?
After all, officials are readily available for midweek underage games. Nor does the concern for stewards stand up as nobody believes that Croke Park, which has vast experience of staging midweek soccer games, couldn't get enough people to work on a Friday night.
Given the flimsiness of the GAA case, there's a strong suspicion that there was more to their opposition to the Friday game than has been articulated.
There's a widespread view that the real reason for refusing permission was a fear that the Mayo players, in particular, would have been financially compensated (either directly or with a donation to a team fund) by Dublin for taking time off work on a Friday.
GAA rules don't allow compensation for time lost due to playing or training for games, but presumably there was a fear among the CCCC that if they sanctioned a Friday night game, others might move in the same direction in the coming year, which would bring the question of payment to players onto the agenda.
Costello has vehemently denied there was any question of paying Mayo, pointing out that the only offer was to fly the squad to Dublin (if required) and provide overnight accommodation.
There are so many holes in the GAA's case that it makes it utterly unsustainable. They have stated that midweek underage provincial games are acceptable because they involve counties which are relatively close to each other. Perhaps so, but they still involve taking the afternoon off, at the very least.
Yes, say the GAA, but most of the players are students so they don't lose out financially. But what of those who work? Shouldn't there be as much concern for them as for senior players?
Even if fears that Friday night games might lead to pressure for compensation were realistic -- and they aren't -- surely it's something that could be addressed at another time. After all, it's not as if there's no precedent for a Friday night league game.
Cork and Kerry opened the 2005 league with a Friday night clash in Pairc Ui Rinn. Croke Park approved it without any reference to concerns about players having to take time off.
This week's baffling decision is a classic example of failing to see the bigger picture. It also raises the question of whether the CCCC were entitled to make a decision which was a policy issue as opposed to the practicalities of fixture-making.
Surely, the question of whether players should be asked to take time off a normal working day to play a game is a matter for Central Council and not the CCCC. And when they did make a decision, would it not have been sensible for the CCCC to grant permission for the Friday night game as a one-off and ask for direction from Central Council as to how they should proceed if similar requests were made in future years?
Instead, they vetoed the plan and blew a brilliant promotional opportunity. A Friday night game in Croke Park would generate big media interest, ensuring that Gaelic games commanded far more coverage in Saturday's newspapers than will now be the case.
It can hardly have escaped the CCCC that if Gaelic games are to continue to prosper they must be robustly marketed. Dublin's initiative, supported by Mayo, provided a ready-made promotional certainty free of charge, but instead of applauding it, the CCCC slipped into rejection mode.
The end result is that Friday night will be free of GAA activity when it could have featured an attractive feature under lights in Croke Park. Truly, a remarkable waste of a profitable marketing opening.
It's almost 20 years since the GAA lined up its two feet and repeatedly pumped bullets into them when they wouldn't allow Dublin and Down footballers to feature in a double-header with Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians in the RDS.
Having initially granted permission to Dublin and Down, Central Council later withdrew it on the basis that they were unhappy with certain aspects of the financial arrangements. Their argument was wholly unconvincing and most people believed that an anti-soccer sentiment was the real reason for the GAA's hardline stance.
The controversy lasted for weeks and was a PR disaster for the GAA.
Blocking the Dublin-Mayo game next Friday isn't quite as damaging, but it shares some of the RDS affair characteristics in that there are suspicions that the reasons put forward for the rejection don't tell the full story.
Bottom line? The GAA has sacrificed a wonderful promotional opening over spurious concerns that it might set some sort of precedent which could apply pressure for players to be compensated for time off in the future.
That's bad business at a time when the GAA should be exploiting every opening to sell its games in a crowded sports stall.