Grassroots have spoken and they must be listened to
FRC recommendations should be a platform for positive change in big-ball game, says Colm O'Rourke
The Football Review Committee have announced their second set of recommendations and would like to ride quietly away into the sunset.
They have done the state some service and must rank as one of the best GAA committees of all for the meticulous manner in which they have used every resource to elicit information and get the most comprehensive range of views possible.
The ordinary supporters have responded in huge numbers by making submissions. Maybe for the first time they felt the quiet man was being listened to. No one can therefore dispute that the views expressed are of the people and by the people.
Some would argue that it is always better to lead debate than follow it but this report is from the ground up and is not some high-powered group trying to set an agenda. Collecting and collating data must have been a nightmare and the committee members deserve great thanks for that. They won't want another job from a future GAA president.
I could understand fully if they were suffering from fatigue and just wanted to get the rest of this out of the way. In my time I have served on two big committees -- the one which brought in the back door for the football championship and the burnout group. Neither of these were successful in getting all their proposals through, but it is just as important to start a debate and the back-door system still stands -- even if I hoped we could have moved on from it.
At the end I felt we should be like the jury in a particularly gruesome murder trial where the judge recommends that you do not have to sit on another jury for the rest of your life. It can be that draining and ultimately (usually) unsuccessful.
In paying tribute to this group for their work the expectation might be that this would come before putting the boot in. It is not going to be like that. My often expressed view of the provincial championships is that they are the primary reason for having less successful counties -- the new term in use -- and the best thing now is to move on to something that's fit for purpose.
The FRC has gone for redesigning as they try to balance desirable and possible. If moving a few counties around after losing their first round and giving them another chance in a new province works, then well and good. At the very least it is worth a try.
I can't see players or managers having any objection. It guarantees at least another championship match and there is still the back door. There is hardly any loser here. If it happened that the preliminary-round loser in Ulster this year, Tyrone, moved to play in Connacht, it would really soup up the western championship which at present is a one-horse race. However, Ulster teams might hold very different views, as they normally do on GAA affairs.
Of great interest to me and anyone else involved in second-level schools football is the proposal to reduce the minor grade from an under 18 to an under 17 competition. Based on recent figures which indicate that only 20 per cent of students are still 17 when they sit their Leaving Certificate, it makes perfect sense to move the minor competition away from the most important exams a young person will do.
Especially so as a county minor team can now lose two games in their province and still qualify for the All-Ireland quarter-finals. Of course parents should ensure they make the decisions to keep their sons away from training at these times but that is easier said than done when a place on a panel or the team is at stake.
Maybe of more interest is the tackling of issues surrounding the closed season, especially for younger age groups. The start of minor training is supposed to be February 1 and the committee recommends strict enforcement of this date and the same with the relevant dates for senior and under 21. They also advise that second-level schools competition should finish earlier to allow club and county competitions to start.
Again I think this is a good idea as Leaving Cert students should be concentrating more on their studies than football in the latter half of their final year. At present the All-Ireland colleges final is played in April; it really should finish in early March.
With respect to under 21, it also looks very sensible to have these players excluded from their own senior panel until such time as the under 21 team exits the championship. It will penalise smaller counties more and especially those who get a long run in
the under 21 competition, but this is a player welfare issue and most senior team managers must see the benefits to summer of allowing younger players an easier time in spring.
With most under 21s also involved in third-level championships at this time, it reduces the demands on top players by one team. And nobody has mentioned when these players are supposed to turn out with their clubs.
In the past, most committees that lit the torch and put forward sensible proposals on anything usually had another committee chasing after them with a big hose to put out the flame. At least now there is fairly rational debate as evidenced by the introduction of the black card for next year. Yet to tackle the overall fixtures of the GAA would need the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job. Neither are willing to sit on a GAA committee.
When Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon he said it was one small step for a man and one giant leap for mankind. The FRC will make no such major claims on their work. They have moved the process on. Their contribution is a bit more like the Chinese proverb from the philosopher Lao Tzu who said that the longest journey begins with the shortest step.
There are a lot of small steps in this report, all of which can make a difference.