Sunday 15 September 2019

Colm Keys: 'Five big issues are looming large for the GAA over the coming months'

Discipline problem and stadium issues loom ahead of another off-season of changes

The melee during the Dingle-East Kerry game. Photo: Domnick Walsh © Eye Focus LTD
The melee during the Dingle-East Kerry game. Photo: Domnick Walsh © Eye Focus LTD
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The wheels of change never stop turning in the GAA. All that's ever different is the pace of it.

After arguably the most radical periods of change over the last five years that has seen revamped football and hurling championships, the introduction of a black card and a mark in football, and new underage grades among many other adjustments, it should potentially have been a quiet off-season. But a number of big issues are looming large over the coming months.

Discipline

An issue that has roared back into the public conversation on the back of the violent scenes that marred a number of club games.

GAA president John Horan has given a strong hint that crowded sidelines, lightweight sanctions and any obstacles to the pursuit of investigations could be tackled.

A cap on the numbers on sidelines is an immediate starting point, so too is a more specific rule relating to team officials who strike opposing players.

Robbie Keane at the Liam Miller benefit match. Photo: Sportsfile
Robbie Keane at the Liam Miller benefit match. Photo: Sportsfile

As it stands, rule 7.2C Cat 11A allows for any physical interference by a team official with an opposing player to carry a minimum eight-week suspension. So there is the inequality of a push drawing the same suspension as a punch.

Substitutes and team officials who make unauthorised encroachments on to a pitch should also be served with stiff suspensions while a central disciplinary unit that has oversight of all local disciplinary issues has also been floated but that comes with the risk of potentially undermining properly functioning disciplinary bodies in some counties.

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Fixtures/scheduling

At macro level is the prospect of a second-tier championship, though a picture of what shape it would potentially take has yet to emerge.

What's clear is that the mood has changed in less than three years with 60pc of players now in favour and directly affected counties like Leitrim broadly supporting the concept.

The detail will be all important, however. Will provincial finalists be safeguarded so that they can continue to compete in mainstream championship, irrespective of their league status?

And if a second-tier final is played on All-Ireland football final day, what will the impact on ticket distribution be? Much to ponder before that gets over the line.

At micro level changes to the scheduling of provincial championships have already been implemented.

In the football championship, the chronology of the 'Super 8' games has to be teased out on top of Dublin's double date in Croke Park

Use of stadia

The use of county grounds for other sports could be back on the agenda at Congress in February after the furore over the use of Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the Liam Miller benefit match.

In the end the GAA's Management Committee were able to establish that a charity game was not in conflict with its rules and could proceed with opening the venue for it.

But the controversy opened up something of a hornet's nest with Government officials clearly inferring that any future funded stadia will be open to as many sports as possible.

That can work both ways as future soccer and rugby stadia, like the revamped RDS, which will also benefit from State funding, will also have to comply.

A new sports infrastructure fund is being unveiled that will support GAA and other sports stadia being redeveloped. How will the prohibition of games "in conflict with the aims and objects of the Association" reconcile with that criteria?

Gaelic football rules

A suite of proposals put forward for discussion and consultation were met with mixed reaction across the board and are currently in a refinement process before being sent forward to Central Council for trial approval in next year's league.

What's clear is something has to give in Gaelic football. The pedestrian handpassing chains, particularly in the middle third of the field, have become a blight and the biggest turn-off to supporters.

Some of the proposed rules at least deserve trialling, most notably the mark inside the 20-metre line, though adjudicating on that is going to be difficult for officials.

Resetting for a kick-out so that just four players are left between the two 45s may be fine in theory but in practice serves to slow the game down and this is open to change.

ESRI report and 31-hour week

The report commissioned by the GAA and Gaelic Players Association to determine the levels of commitment to their sport shone a light on an area where already there was brightness.

It was comprehensive, thorough and qualitative. But what direction can either the GAA or the GPA take with it? What can be tried that already hasn't been tried before, generally without success?

A central monitoring body or figure that drew comparison with the IRFU model, is a potential option but what works for a professional body operating with contracts may not be the right fit for an amateur landscape where commitment, and the levels of it, are a choice.

Turning the findings of this report into something tangible will be a sizeable challenge.

Irish Independent

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