Tuesday 11 December 2018

Colm O'Rourke: New GAA chief must row back on ALL changes

Paraic Duffy in Croke Park
Paraic Duffy in Croke Park
‘I have not been a fan of the direction undertaken by the GAA under Páraic Duffy. Yet for all that, nobody could fall out with the man as distinct from the policies’. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Who gets more criticism every year, the Minister for Health or the GAA's Ard Stiúrthóir? It's a close call but the man at the top in Croke Park probably has to dodge more bullets than those being sent to Angola. For many supporters around the country, the 'top brass' in Dublin can be blamed for almost everything, even if it is not part of their brief. Few will defend the paid officials; it can therefore be a lonely and rather thankless job.

It is not surprising then that Páraic Duffy has decided to hand in his gun. I for one have not been a fan of the direction undertaken by the GAA in recent times, and Duffy has been the driver of this change. Yet for all that, nobody could fall out with the man as distinct from the policies he believed in, as he is always most friendly, courteous, well-informed and decent.

Duffy came to the job in 2008 from the same background as myself, that is as a principal of a big, all boys secondary school. I hope he is not planning on a return, as the frustration of running the GAA pales by comparison with education, where the Government gives extra allocations of teachers but there are none available, and I mean none. So schools cannot get specialist teachers for Irish, French, Spanish and a lot more. That's some planning by the department and the third-level colleges.

You reap what you sow. A two-year post-graduate diploma is massively expensive, and young people won't do it for lousy wages. So they go to Dubai or get jobs which pay properly. This is the crisis in education; that should probably read chaos. Maybe this is part of some long-term Trojan horse policy of the Government where the complete shortage of Irish teachers means it becomes a subject of choice, with far fewer doing it. The great workers' representatives, the ASTI, obviously have not noticed this. They are too consumed by bringing about the overthrow of all institutions of State and the creation of some type of socialist utopia, where nobody has to work but everybody is very well off. I'm all for that.

In my world view, the ASTI and the GPA are quite similar: they both seem to think that we all owe them something and words like goodwill are removed from the dictionary and nobody does anything extra in case it creates a 'precedent'.

Anyway, back to the GAA. It might be better if the new man or woman (wouldn't that be a change?) comes from a non-teaching background. Don't get me wrong, teachers have been the biggest group in making the organisation into such an incredible sporting body. That's not my point. The salary for the Ard Stiúrthóir is not published but it is certainly a six-figure sum - I am sure it is enough to be able to afford a good cigar and a nice wine. But the job is relentless, the hours are long and it is more chairman than chief executive.

The Duffy era has been dominated by the Sky television deal, the massive pay-off that has been made to the GPA, the new Super 8 in football, and, most recently, the changes to the hurling championship. The new boss should roll back on all these changes. Bringing the date for the All-Ireland finals forward is another disaster. I can't think of a great clamour in altering dates, and the massive promotional opportunity that September gave in schools has been lost. And for what? It won't do anything for club fixtures and leaves most counties without any action for six months.

The new chief has to tackle the money trail. In my innocence I always thought that the GAA, though obviously dependent on money for expansion, did not look on it as their god. This requires a new vision. Giving the GPA such vast quantities of money and ignoring the CPA created division and inequality. It has not gone away. What did the GAA get from this deal? Players can be looked after very well but such vast amounts of scarce resources do not have to be thrown at them. It only creates a culture of entitlement. Will the new person be willing to take on this challenge?

Will he or she also set out a vision of the GAA in the next decade? This should include a decision to return to free-to-air broadcasting of all matches. I actually think there should be fewer games live on television but those that are should not be pay-per-view. If the GAA are to have any core principles then this should be one of them. And if this does not include RTÉ as the main player then so be it.

The biggest task which faces the new chief executive though is to try and steer the GAA away from elitism, from domination to competition, from small numbers to mass participation with all the necessary structures in place. This is a cultural shift. In general, people in the GAA have to be re-educated. It is time to have a critical look at the development of young players and underage development squads in counties. What purpose do they serve? Participation and fun for bigger numbers is the key for survival. Drop-out rates are enormous, and there needs to be a tracking system to see whether these elite squads - which are costing a lot of money - are actually doing any good. My view is that there should be no inter-county competition before under 17 and more games for clubs.

This will have to be part of a bigger picture on fixtures for the new guru. The tampering that has taken place recently will only magnify discrimination between counties. Redirecting money is only one small part of the problem, but every county needs a programme of games in the summer months at their level, with every player playing in Croke Park at least once a year. This is not rocket science: it is there in hurling. Football counties have to be incentivised to accept what is best for them and their players.

When the new boss has done all of this, it will be time to face the elephant in the room. In 2002, the Strategic Review Committee recommended splitting Dublin. This was even before they became successful. It was based on opportunity for young players then and is much more relevant now. Those in Dublin will try and block it as they have become obsessed with winning, and giving more players a chance to play at the highest level is not part of their plan. They say it is not the right time. The right time to do the right thing is always now, same as everything in life.

It will take a very brave person to take on all of the vested interests in the GAA. Away from trying to look like a Premier League soccer team or a giant rugby team and back to the communities. Giving people of all ages a happy and more fulfilling life where giving is the key word. Back to clubs, those poor unfortunates waiting to be set free. I live in hope.

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