Colm O'Rourke: 'I hope I'm wrong, but new GAA committee looks a waste of time'
The announcement last weekend of the GAA's new task force to review the fixtures calendar was a bit like Government strategy of releasing bad news at a time when there was so much happening that nobody would notice.
I have written a few times that the setting up of this committee was an opportunity to achieve something and effect real change in the GAA - so long as it had a good number of independent thinkers rather than those with vested interests.
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The name - Fixtures Calendar Review Task Force - hints at certain restrictions and the terms of reference reinforce this. The only wide-ranging discussion that can take place is on "the timing and structure of the main senior inter-county competitions (pre-season, league and championship) including the need for a closed season." There is also a mention of club fixtures, how they are structured and monitored, and you can throw third level into the mix as well.
But there is nothing on the future role of bodies like the GPA and its finances, or population imbalance and how that is going to demand a major response. These important issues are off-limits. There will be no debate on the future of Dublin or why nearly 20 years ago a similar committee advocated a break-up of the county. So, to my mind the committee members are working with their hands tied behind their backs.
I'm going to put myself in the shoes of these committee members.
If I was John Costello, Dublin CEO, on this committee I would play it cool, agree with everyone but make sure nothing too radical gets done. After all, I work for Dublin GAA. Why should I want anything to change? My son also plays for Dublin, his career has been blighted by injury and he has not started many big games so I want to see him play on winning Dublin teams in All-Ireland finals for the next five years. Is there any father who would act differently? So I will not allow any discussion on Dublin's population, finance or number of full-time coaches.
On top of that, I do not want any discussion on breaking up Dublin into different teams. It is a bit like the fellow who went to the dentist and told him to pull out a tooth that was causing a lot of pain. When the dentist examined it and told him he would put in a filling the response was, "pull it out quick, you can do what you like with it when I'm gone". For the Dublin CEO, you can do what you like with Dublin when I'm gone but things are going nicely for us at the moment and why should I agree to any change. If someone wants a B Championship then good luck with that. It makes no difference to us.
If I was John Prenty, secretary of the Connacht Council, on the committee I would be trying to steer any discussion away from breaking up the provincial system. We are doing nicely in Connacht, the championship is competitive even if it is only between three teams. So long as Mayo are going fairly well there will always be big gates.
Then we also have the ultimate junket to New York each year. Why would any county in Connacht even dream of giving that up? It does not matter if New York ever win a game. We parcel it up as a cultural mission. Not only that, but when Mayo play there it is a chance to fill their boots with cash from well wishers from the ould sod. The other counties don't do so well but it is a win-win situation. If some do-gooder on the committee comes up with the idea of a B championship then I will enthusiastically support it. So long as nobody tries to mess with my baby.
If I was Ronan Sheehan, GPA representative on the committee, I would agree to everything so long as discussion about the internal workings of the GPA was off-limits. No talk of how people are hired, what the top executives are paid and certainly not a word about how much the grant is that is coming from the GAA. Or how it is spent. The party line is that we are doing massive work in the area of player welfare.
And if somebody brings up the hurling junket to Boston and how it is benefitting the game in Leitrim or Donegal or Sligo, for example, then I will just talk about the big picture of hurling being a 'world game' which should have a greater profile. And of course I will say it is 'the greatest game in the world'. Nobody will dare question how this conclusion has been arrived at.
And I will be fast out of the traps to declare that players will agree to a secondary competition so long as it is run properly. Hopefully nobody will ask what I mean by that. As for clubs, what are they?
If I was Stephen Barker, from the Ulster Council CCC, on this committee I would say that turkeys don't vote for Christmas. I will tell them that the Ulster Championship is the only properly working provincial championship. True. So all discussion should centre around how to improve the Leinster and Munster championships. Naturally, I will agree to a B Championship as a sop to losers. There are none of those in Ulster.
If I was Michael Hyland, the chairperson of the Higher Education Committee, I would not be interested in any radical change which might involve colleges football. Things are running fine and I will fight tooth and nail with anyone who dares suggest that the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups should move to pre-Christmas. I can blind them all with exams and other data which suggests that the period before Christmas is out. Anyway, things work well as it is, so why even look to change? Anyone who suggests that the Sigerson Cup should be early and Higher Education Leagues played later without county players will not get a hearing from me. Of course I will agree to a B Championship and they can play it whatever way they like.
If I was Kevin O'Donovan, Cork CEO, on the committee then I'm not in a very strong position to say much after the Páirc Uí Chaoimh debacle so I will sit quietly. The provincial championship will not be up for discussion as far as I'm concerned just in case it would be agreed to, and the precious Munster Hurling Championship won't come up for discussion. Not on my watch.
I would worry a bit about a B Championship in case Cork could find themselves in it. The best thing would be to postpone it for a couple of years so Cork could get out of the third division.
If I was Michael Higgins, the CPA representative on the committee, I would want radical change which would mean goodbye to the provincial championships dominating the summer. The battalions would line up against me while at the same time saying 'we must protect the club'. Club players are getting games but county players are not playing club football. I would likely get completely frustrated.
That leaves Seamus Woods, chairperson of the Post Primary Schools Committee. Michael Martin, chairperson of the National Fixtures Analysts Committee, who will present the facts, Conor O'Donoghue, who has done a lot of work on fixtures in Meath and Eddie O'Sullivan, the committee chairperson. That group of four will have the best of intentions and will want to do the right thing. They don't represent anyone but the vast majority of GAA supporters who want a new direction. They need God on their side.
As for the first meeting of this committee, it should either be in Knock or Lourdes, because a miracle will be needed for the radical change that cannot be agreed to by people who are being paid to protect sectoral interest.
I hope I'm completely wrong.
Sunday Indo Sport