Wednesday 21 November 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Club players need a civil rights march to Croker

‘I thought the days of eight-goal games were only going to be seen in old news reels when players wore caps and nailed the cogs into their boots’. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
‘I thought the days of eight-goal games were only going to be seen in old news reels when players wore caps and nailed the cogs into their boots’. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

It is gloomy mid-April and the sky is further darkened by the thousands of chickens coming home to roost. The great Ó Fearghaíl/Duffy initiative of giving April to the clubs is being shown up for what it always was - bluster. This, alongside the Sky deal, the Super 8s and the payout to the GPA is some legacy to leave the ordinary man. Of course, all the other major decision-making bodies of the GAA were complicit in these decisions - the blind leading the blind.

Now in the midst of April showers, the county-free zone that was supposed to be this month has already blown up in the administrators' faces. Anybody who had even a small hold on reality knew what was coming.

From the beginning, I have written on several occasions that unless it was set in stone that no training or challenge matches could take place then it was all a waste of time. Now the reports from all over the country are backing that up, even to the extent in several cases that some county players may play no matches at all with their clubs. As for training with them, well, the dogs in the street knew the answer to that one. Those dogs obviously don't bark near Croke Park.

And yes, many county boards have now also shown themselves to be spineless. If no county training was covered by insurance and the county executive ruled that all training was off then the problem could have been easily solved. On top of that the county boards in many places could have done what they are supposed to do: put on a programme of fixtures where all players participated. It's hardly rocket science, but if you remove for a while the absolute mess that the central authorities have made of clubs then the number one force for the destruction of clubs has been their own county boards. You could not make it up.

At this stage it might take a great march by club players to Croke Park, modelled on Martin Luther King's long march to Washington to demand civil rights. The club players would be demanding their civil rights too: a defined club season with access to their own county players. Maybe the officials in Croke Park would turn the water hoses and the tear gas on these demonstrators or maybe there is somebody who could come up with a 'I have a dream' speech which would set out a position of equality for all in the GAA.

In fairness, there are few from clubs who would deny that if the county side were playing championship in early May there would be a need to be back training before the end of the month. That is only reasonable. But that is a two-way street too.

Instead, the whole sense of unfairness pervades all from now on. The league was between equals, with everyone having a realistic chance of making progress at their own level. Now it all goes out the window. That came home to me clearly when watching Cavan and Roscommon in the Division 2 final a few weeks ago. As soon as the match was over Cavan turned their attention to playing Donegal in the first round of the Ulster championship in Ballybofey on May 13.

Roscommon, meanwhile, have the onerous task of beating New York or Leitrim on June 17 to get to the Connacht final. A very short step to the Super 8 from there, while the road for Cavan is full of uncertainty. If Cavan get to the Super 8 it will be a monumental achievement. Is this a fair system? Answers on a stamp.

Roscommon are very likely to join the big boys' club in late summer. The May 13 shootout between Mayo and Galway is looked on as an Ali v Frazier heavyweight contest but Ken Norton is waiting in the wings and anyone who thinks Connacht is a two-horse race is going to get a rude awakening.

Roscommon beat Galway fair and square last year and are better now. They certainly have defensive issues; that was not just evident against Cavan when they let in four goals, it was a problem during the league.

That league final against Cavan was highly entertaining. I thought the days of eight-goal games were only going to be seen in old news reels when players wore caps and nailed the cogs into their boots.

One of the most unusual statistics from the game was that Cavan scored three goals in the first half while Roscommon scored none yet Roscommon still led at half-time. They rained over points from all angles and distances. Conor Devaney, Donie Smith and Diarmuid Murtagh will take a bit of minding in the Connacht championship - maybe even more so in Croke Park as their style of play is suited to a fast surface.

Their angles of running, slick hand-passing and accuracy with the foot will keep any backline busy but if they come up against one of the top teams and decide on an OK Corral-type shootout then they will end up in Boot Hill, the American cowboys' burial ground.

One of the big difficulties for Roscommon and nearly every other county, apart from the top four or five, is player retention. For various reasons many Roscommon players opted out last year; some are back and the panel is stronger as a result.

There are various reasons why players decide to jump ship and this is especially true for the championship rather than the league. Some will feel that the league gives the best opportunity to win and others want the bright lights of New York and other cities around the world when it comes to the summer, knowing that they will miss very little club action while they are away.

The new calendar makes this even more suitable for county players. The students can play in the early games and then take off when the qualifiers come around. The GAA have devised a playing schedule which suits the North American market perfectly. They may not be able to make a proper attempt to sort fixtures at home but the master fixtures plan is a huge boost to football in New York. It will be like a cattle market in Kennedy Airport this June.

Some players also leave county panels for frivolous reasons. I do not know whether they are simply more unwilling nowadays to sit on the bench and serve an apprenticeship like they used to.

There is probably greater impatience, while some just won't accept a bad set-up which years ago may have been tolerated. For whatever reason county panels are very fluid. It is in keeping with the restlessness of youth and I cannot complain as I advise all young teachers in my school to take a year out and travel.

It should be the same with county players - they should all be encouraged to go away, and I could think of a few who should get even greater encouragement to stay away.

It does no harm to them or to the GAA and they can be sure that club fixtures will still be as big a mess when they return.

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