Colm Keys: ‘Dummy’ teams leave GAA fans short-changed as show goes on with cast still to be named
Roll up, roll up for the biggest show in town. But we'll only let you know who is going to be starring in the show after you've paid your money to get in.
The audience might not demand their money back but would be justifiably unhappy in that scenario - one which is unfolding on a weekly basis in GAA fields across the country.
In his final report to Congress last month the outgoing GAA director-general Páraic Duffy addressed many issues, among them the naming of 'dummy' teams for so many games.
In recent years measures were taken that went some way to addressing the practice, with inter-county teams forced to register their starting 15 and 11 substitutes by 9am on the Thursday morning before a weekend game.
This at least provided for the 26 players who could potentially see action at some stage during the game but significant osmosis still took place between the replacements and starting team in the days that followed.
That rule, however, did not cover league games and peak pettiness appears to have been reached last weekend at a number of venues.
Pride of place goes to Armagh who were playing Fermanagh in Enniskillen's Brewster Park where the stadium announcer expressed his regret that he couldn't announce a team because Armagh would not provide him with one.
At least Armagh - managed by Kieran McGeeney - were upfront about it. In Croke Park Jerry Grogan, a Kerryman who has given so much to Dublin GAA through his involvement with Cumann na mBunscol since moving up from his native county in the early 1970s, is the familiar voice that does most stadium announcements connected with match presentation.
To put Jerry's contribution in context, 14 of the 15 starting Dublin players in the 2011 All-Ireland final came through the Cumann na mBunscol vehicle.
But when Jerry called out the Dublin team just a few minutes before throw-in against Kerry 10 days ago, James McCarthy was included. By the time the match started, Shane Carthy was in at right half-back.
It's not the first time the wrong team for a Croke Park game involving the All-Ireland champions was called out so close to the start. Jerry's immense contribution doesn't grant him immunity from the dreaded 'dummy', however.
In Castlebar, Mayo PRO Paul Cunnane pointed out that there were 15 changes to the Tyrone team and squad, between the personnel and numbers, leaving the page like a troubling game of Sudoku.
Clarifying that it was through no fault of the Tyrone PRO, Cunnane posed a question about the production and purchase of programmes. "What's the point spending time putting them together or money buying them," he asked.
But it's come to even more than that now. And it's much more than having teams out during the week in the media for discussion points. It's no longer just a media issue. That ship has long sailed.
When people make the effort to go to a game and pay the admission fee, they should at least be entitled to know who the cast are.
It's not a new practice but it's a far more common one from the days when Ger Loughnane sent out a Clare team in the week of the 1997 All-Ireland final, only to parachute Niall Gilligan in at the last minute.
It was designed to shield Gilligan and worked, causing a copycat effect in the years to come.
Some teams have gone to great lengths to conceal their real identity. Before their 2003 Connacht final against Mayo, Galway lined up 17 players to greet President Mary McAleese beforehand.
A year later at the Galway football final, Pádraic Joyce, who had been injured training with the Irish international rules team a month earlier and required surgery, waited until after the national anthem had been played and the last team huddle had broken up before whipping off his tracksuit and emerged wearing the No 15 shirt.
He had trained in late at night in the week beforehand under the guidance of his uncle Billy, Killererin's manager at the time, so that even few of his own club-mates knew what was happening.
In his report, Duffy cited an idea from the former Laois footballer Billy Sheehan whereby any change to the starting 15 after the Thursday morning deadline should count as a substitution.
"Team managers would think twice before knowingly naming an incorrect starting 15 if it reduced their options for substitutions during the game," the director-general noted.
In theory, it was fine but at a time when games are coming thicker and faster at counties in the summertime - with sometimes just a week between games - is it realistic for managers to make their teams so concrete when injuries and illness can still potentially occur in those remaining days?
The idea should, however, form the basis for what happens next.
An hour before throw-in the starting 15 of each team in a championship, league or pre-season competition should be presented to the match officials and subsequently passed on to the event controller/chief steward for dissemination to the public.
Any subsequent change prior to throw-in should register as one of the five/six substitutions.
The window for injury in the warm-up is still there of course but once the teams hit the field it should constitute 'game on' for the purposes of what teams are playing.
Unless a firmer line is taken, the practice of treating the public with contempt will continue.
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