Saturday 20 October 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Lack of proper enforcement makes us look like April fools

Ard Stiúrthóir of the GAA Tom Ryan. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ard Stiúrthóir of the GAA Tom Ryan. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

The great April debate rumbles on. I was surprised by the reaction to my column last Sunday although I shouldn't have been, because most people in the GAA identify and have greater loyalty to their club than county. It may appear different on the big days in Croke Park, but that's my belief. Anyway, the big gripe remains the same no matter where players are from - with a few exceptions.

Dublin players were sent back to their clubs at the beginning of the month and are spending time among their own tribes. Dean Rock said last week that it added greatly to the Dublin team to be away for a while. The players train and play with their clubs, do their own gym work and ensure that their fitness levels remain high.

So the question with Dublin is one of chicken and egg. Does the fact that the Dubs are successful make it easier to release their players or is it, as seems more likely, that they come back to the panel for championship training completely rejuvenated and fresh from having some time away? They have had a three-month winter campaign and now they are looking towards a four-month summer of success having had a month to freshen up. They will be mad for action. They obviously believe that less is more.

The argument in many counties is that if players are allowed back to their clubs for any length of time, they will come back in rag order. Naturally, the quality of training is going to differ enormously between clubs, but any county player who has a bit of respect for his team and himself will make sure that he keeps himself in the best of shape.

Maybe the idea of keeping April as a county-free zone was good, but it's pure daft that it would be sold as a ground-breaker. A lot of counties don't run any championship games in April anyway so players are hardly likely to be enthused by a diet of league matches. If you add in to that scene that challenge matches are starting up for counties then it becomes a complete joke. That is exactly how it has turned out.

As I said last week, something like this only works if there is a central order where all county training and matches are banned and where insurance is cancelled to make sure that it is observed. Look at how the training ban worked out: It was completely ignored by all the county boards who are supposed to be taking instruction from Croke Park.

Ultimately, the whole April thing will remain the farce that it has proven to be until some overall plan is put in place. Don't hold your breath on that one as everybody in office seems in thrall to the provincial councils. Central to that fixtures plan will have to be a written recognition that club championship has the same status as county football. It should be the first commandment of the GAA. We need a prophet to deliver a new set of GAA commandments on tablets of stone. The next leading official of the GAA who makes some pronouncement that 'the club is the bedrock of the GAA' should be subjected to 40 lashes.

I was hoping for some new departure in this regard from Tom Ryan, who gave his first press conference as director-general last week. It was his first opportunity to speak to the masses. The conference was underwhelming, to put it mildly.

Maybe Ryan has some big ideas to come and if he did he should have waited to introduce himself. You only get one chance to make a first impression but it looks like all is rosy in the Croke Park garden.

Every county board chairman, every provincial council chairman and certainly those at the top in Croke Park should set out an agenda for change, whether great or small, either before or shortly after they take over. If there is no vision, there is stagnation. When Tom Ryan came to meet the press, he should have had some plan to tackle something, some new idea on how to protect clubs from rural depopulation, some initiative on how to increase participation in urban areas, the dominance of a few counties . . . something.

What we got was that he was happy to run with the Sky deal. The GPA will be happy too, they won't have their chain yanked. They can still go to New York and Boston on fundraising trips and they can still get the millions from the GAA. And the Club Players' Association can go whistle Dixie. They do not exist.

I would love to live in this bubble. What I see, though, is a lot of problems. But I also see great potential. The GAA is unique at club level and must be different to every other organisation in the world. It is an army of givers of time, money and energy; rich and poor are the same. It is the best example of practical socialism that exists. If Karl Marx came back he would model Russia on the GAA. It is a most brilliant organisation run at local level by fantastic people who are efficient, hard-working and passionate.

I'm reminded of that scene in Monty Python's Life Of Brian, you know the one, what did the Romans ever do for us? The joke was based on the Romans giving nothing apart from sanitation, roads, aqueducts, irrigation, medicine, wine, public baths and peace. All the GAA gives is wonderful entertainment, healthy activity for all ages in a safe caring environment, competition, mental health benefits, community spirit, something to belong to, a sense of purpose, personal confidence and humility. Nothing apart from that.

Yet for all of this it is crying out for direction and vision . . . that word again. Hopefully it will last forever, but the Romans thought the same and took their eye off the ball. It all ended in tears for them.

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