'So we won't give up on this, no matter what happens'
Páraic Duffy believes football's major issues require legislation, as he tells Damian Lawlor
GAA director-general Páraic Duffy says it will be 'very depressing' if the Football Review Committee proposals do not get rubber-stamped at next month's Congress in Derry.
Among the FRC recommendations are the introduction of the 'mark', a countdown clock and the lengthening of club games from 60 to 70 minutes. Another key proposal which will receive serious debate is a planned new disciplinary system, which was amended earlier this month to include the introduction of a black card.
Duffy says that a vote against any of these proposals makes no sense and insists that Gaelic football will only be enhanced should the FRC's ideas come into law in April.
The director-general's support for the high-powered committee and their suggestions is crucial and could sway votes in a tight ballot, particularly with the black card proposal requiring two-thirds backing.
Duffy admits he will be hugely disappointed if Congress does not row in behind these latest attempts to reshape Gaelic football.
"It would be like everything else," he says, "we would have to go back and start again. But I would hope that Congress would vote these through. The issues at hand, like cynical fouling, won't go away. So we won't give up anyway no matter what happens. But just look at the proposals again and see what the alternatives are. I don't believe for one moment that we pack up and go home if Congress doesn't approve."
The Monaghan native stresses that he is not contemplating anything other than the green light for the much-debated plans.
"It would be very depressing if the FRC suggestions don't get through, but you would simply tweak things and come back again. The next date for a change in playing rules is 2015 but you don't necessarily have to wait for that. But there will be significant level of support," he adds. "No-one can say for sure if they will go through or not, but I'd be very disappointed if they don't."
It hasn't helped the FRC's cause that some high-profile managers like Jim McGuinness and Mickey Harte quickly came out against the recommendations. Duffy, however, says such standpoints will have no impact on delegates.
"Some high-profile managers have also come out in favour of them, Jim Gavin for example," he responds, "so I wouldn't necessarily focus on the negative. Team managers are entitled to their views but generally a lot of people are enthusiastic about this. Because of the quality of personnel on the committee, these proposals have got a fair hearing.
"To be honest, the committee has been very wise. Their initial proposal for a yellow card and a substitution, well there was a general response out there that said, 'Look, that's too tough'. So they were very pragmatic about it. The feedback they were getting was, 'This probably won't fly,' so they came back with another suggestion."
Duffy says the 2013 Congress takes on massive significance for the FRC vote alone. Arguing that this year's annual gathering is as important as any, he reckons the future of Gaelic football will be shaped by the outcome achieved in Derry.
"The problems with football won't go away," he states. "Show me the person who wants to see cynical fouling at a match. The things you're trying to get rid of are easy for everyone to identify.
"People will say, 'Yeah we want this out of the game'. But how do you get it out of the game? Is there a sin bin rather than a black card? These are the only issues. The bottom line is change is needed and there is every chance that these proposals will lead the way.
"In the last number of years we have this clamour for referees like Maurice Deegan or Marty Duffy or David Coldrick or Joe McQuillan to let the game run. That's the mantra.
"But there's something wrong if that's the way you want the game played, for referees to ignore a certain number of fouls just so we've a nice, open game. It's not fair on the referees either but that's where we are in Gaelic football. The belief is if the referee applies all of the rules, according to the rule book, you probably have 100 frees a game.
"Therefore you need to address that. You want the game to flow on its merits but because the referee is implementing the rules . . . and those rules allow a certain level of physical contact in order to make the game attractive . . . we're relying on them not to be blowing for all fouls to make sure we have a good game."
Ruling out a similar review of the hurling championship in the short-term, Duffy instead shone a light on the imminent introduction of Hawk-Eye, which comes into play for the Leinster championships at the start of June. Finances providing, the director-general says he would have no problem with the score-detection system then being rolled out across the country.
"Hawk-Eye will work and it is working, tests are satisfactory – it will tell you whether the ball, no matter how high it went, whether it went over the bar or is a score or not," Duffy states. "I'd be absolutely confident that it will work when it comes in. The day of 'was it a wide or a point' should be gone.
"And if it is a success in Croke Park, I wouldn't be against it moving out across the rest of the land but the cost of it may prevent that. There are so many different financial demands out there on the Association and Hawk-Eye is very expensive. To use Hawk-Eye in Croke Park alone requires eight different cameras out there, so it's very expensive."
Mindful that the majority of clubs and county boards were experiencing financial woes, Duffy feels the crisis is now being managed better.
"The situation has improved over the past 12 months. There is a motion to congress to stop counties accruing debts over a number of years which is another step in the right direction. But counties are far more conscious in general terms anyway and there have been vast improvements in this area."
Still, much of the burden to stop the financial rot has fallen on county secretaries.
There are 20 full-time secretaries within the Association and many are at breaking point and sorely lacking in support from the GAA hierarchy. Quite often they haven't been given the necessary training or resources to deal with a crippling workload.
"I wouldn't say they are at breaking point but I know one of biggest problems lies with the full-time guys; because they're full-time, people think they (have to) do everything," Duffy adds. "Full-time secretaries should work on strategic plans, sponsorship, cutting costs, but they often end up doing everything, including very low-level tasks.
"A full-time secretary should be working on strategic plans; they are working way more than full-time hours but they get no slack for it because they are getting a salary.
"If the secretary is to operate as a kind of chief executive in a county, much more skills training will be required," the director-general adds.
"In 2007, we brought in a system to make full-time appointments but I don't think we gave them enough. If there's a blame here, it rests with Croke Park. We didn't give sufficient attention to providing them with the necessary skills," he concluded.