Thursday 19 July 2018

Almost two-thirds of club players considered quitting over fixtures schedule

John Greene

John Greene

Almost two-thirds of club players have considered walking away from the GAA because of a lack of a definitive fixtures schedule at grassroots level, according to a new survey.

The survey — the latest to be carried out by the Club Players’ Association — paints a stark picture of deep unease among club players about the way in which counties are organising their programme of games.

This is the second major poll of its members by the CPA since its inception in January. A survey earlier in the summer found that almost 90 per cent of players are unhappy with the way club fixtures in their county are run while over half favoured scrapping the provincial championships.

More than 3,200 CPA members responded last week to four questions, the last of which was: Have you ever considered walking away from the game because of the lack of a definitive fixture calendar at club level? Sixty per cent (1,924) admitted in reply that they had.

Micheál Briody, chairman of the CPA, said yesterday that the “shocking statistic even surprised us on the CPA executive”.

The CPA currently has more than 24,000 members and is seeking a radical overhaul of the GAA’s fixtures calendar, including freeing up the month of April for the exclusive use of clubs, which would mean a ban on all inter-county activity.

“Can you imagine being a manager of a panel of 30 players in a junior club in rural Ireland and 60 per cent of them are considering leaving?” said Briody. “That leaves you with 12 players next year and maybe no club. And yet Croke Park don’t see fit to address the problem.”

The GAA has repeatedly insisted that it is working to improve the situation. It says bringing forward the date of the All-Ireland finals and the introduction of the Super 8s will create more space on a congested calender for club activity, and has called a special Congress next month.

This will consider changes to the hurling championship and also a number of motions which the GAA says will ease pressure on club fixtures, including the introduction of a second period of extra time in football qualifiers in an attempt to avoid replays. This rule, if passed, would also apply to replayed provincial finals. There is also a proposal to tighten rules around arranging inter-county challenges in football and hurling.

However, the CPA says that the seven motions it has been given sight of fall well short of what is required to help clubs.

“We have engaged openly with Croke Park and shown them that a National Fixture Master Plan that allows club and county to co-exist is very possible,” said Briody. “They have closed the door on the CPA and are not considering our proposals or any meaningful club friendly proposals of their own so we asked our members should we escalate our response to demonstrate that the club player is dissatisfied. And 95 per cent of them responded with a resounding ‘Yes’ and we received 246 opinions on how that escalation should take shape.

“It’s time for all decision makers in power in the GAA to walk the walk and stop just talking the talk when it comes to clubs,” he added.

Hundreds of comments were left by club players after they voted on this latest poll. This is a flavour of those comments:

“As a club player, I want regular games. The main problem is too much emphasis on county teams.”

“I left the country last October to work in New Zealand for a year. I am a club player from Galway who commuted from Dublin every weekend — mostly for training. If I returned home tomorrow morning after 10 months I would only have missed six competitive games between league and championship, and still be home for the best part of the season.”

“It is within the control of each county board to organise their fixtures irrespective of the inter-county fixtures. Control of the county team managers should be restricted by each county board to ensure that the clubs are given priority.”

“The wedge between county and club players is widening with county players becoming more isolated, and this is true also at minor and even underage development squad levels. Undue pressure is levelled at these players not to train/play club.”

“We have already begun to see amalgamations at the lower age groups of the GAA, right up to the young adult levels. If nothing changes it is a matter of time before many club teams at adult level will need to amalgamate in order to be able to field competitive teams.”

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