Thursday 26 April 2018

Colm O'Rourke: There's a better way than club chaos and financial double standards

Páraic Duffy. Photo: Sportsfile
Páraic Duffy. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

If the ard-stiúrthóir's job is to point out problems in the GAA before riding off into the sunset then Páraic Duffy's final annual report sticks to script. Most people, though, are looking for solutions. Anyone who is vaguely familiar with the organisation knows the problems and is seeking guidance. It is not offered here.

The plaintive cry for the preservation of amateurism rears its head again. If clubs and county boards decide they are going to pay managers generous expenses, or whatever they want to call them, then this will continue until hell freezes over. One arm of the GAA is setting policy, the other is breaking it at every opportunity.

Many clubs recruit managers from within. I think that is the best model, but I understand it is not always possible and sometimes not desirable. There are occasions when an outside voice can calm toxicity. There are many clubs who have been divided by somebody getting a manager's job at the expense of another club member, which sets off a chain reaction of disharmony. There are fathers and brothers and in-laws and out-laws. All can be easily insulted if they want to be. And one generation is not nearly enough to lance the boil.

Bringing in an outsider can allow a lot of factions to leave their guns at the door. Expenses are cheap in these cases. Duffy talks in his report about legitimate expenses, but there are plenty of clubs who don't pay expenses at all. I know very well as I was part of a management team in my club who took that route. If everyone, from management to players, knows exactly the score on this one then there is a healthier environment all round.

Yet there are inconsistencies in Duffy's report around expenses and the worries about amateurism. There is an immediate conflict, for instance, in selling the rights of our games to Sky, who operate behind a pay wall. And we don't even know how much money is involved. Preaching about managers getting paid and selling out to a company which then charges to watch games is double standards in my opinion.

So is giving so much money to the GPA — even if it's to keep them quiet. I am quite sure that many of the GPA's projects are beneficial, but there are plenty of managers who get a few quid for helping out teams and who look at the wages that are being paid to some of the executives in the GPA, money coming directly from the GAA itself, and think it's a bit rich. So while county players get decent expenses and grants, the other 98 per cent get nothing. Don't even try to square that circle.

Duffy also throws out the parting shot that a new tiered format is needed in the championship. This is hardly a eureka moment. Why did Duffy not do something about this on his watch instead of introducing the Super Eight for successful counties who do not need more games?

He was in a position of great influence and I think he should have led the charge to do something for weaker counties who are in absolute decay. These counties have a chance in the league, but the championship is a farce and many are just throwing money down the drain by simply taking part.

Why hasn't a vision of a fairer championship been drawn up? There are enough sheep going to Congress who might have sided with a revolutionary guide to the future if it was presented properly. In fact, if anything is sold well delegates will support it. Just look at the recent changes to the fixture list.

I was at a county board meeting in Meath a few weeks ago where a change to the championship structure was mooted for clubs. Basically it meant reducing the number of guaranteed championship matches from five to three, something I was absolutely opposed to.

The chairman introduced the topic by saying that the new fixtures calendar meant fewer times for local games. My obvious reply to this was why was it not opposed if it was going to cause problems for all the players who toil away at local level and want a schedule of games with their full team. Of course it is not just football fixtures which cause the problem, but the amount of extra championship hurling games in the Leinster Championship. So delegates at Congress were sold a pup.

Club fixtures will not be better in the early part of the year, but worse, and county boards feel that the way to solve the problem is to reduce the number of club games. The absolute frustration of players and clubs with what is happening was palpable in the debate over the last two weeks. Thankfully, there is no change.

The league in Meath runs from this Sunday until the end of July. A club with county players will not have those players in January, February or March, and they will play one or perhaps two championship matches in April and won't be available again until July at the earliest. So a county player may not play even one league match with his club. Simonstown have five players on the county panel, so the integrity of the league is destroyed. It is all very fine to talk about games in theory, but I managed a club team for years and these are the facts.

Similarly, Duffy's dismissal of any discussion about the future of Dublin in terms of GAA promotion is disappointing. There is no need to trot out the old jargon about Dublin having a massive following and that they won't dominate for ever. That is not the point. The chief executive of the GAA should be thinking in terms of efficiency at county board level, about player participation, opportunities and retention rates. And what every boy dreams of — a chance to play in Croke Park. When the population of Dublin is two or three million will there be a change of attitude?

The three main men who wanted a division in Dublin 15 years ago were Seán McCague, Joe McDonagh and Peter Quinn — men of vision. They did not want to do harm to Dublin or anyone else, but promote and improve the game. Anyway, I will let that sleeping dog lie.

So the final report from Duffy emphasises the legacy. It is one of the GPA getting a big slice of the cake, the Club Players' Association getting nothing, a new fixtures schedule which already threatens chaos for clubs and a deal with Sky, something which was promised would never happen.

My report is rather different. It says that the divisions in the game at county level are greater than ever, that there is a great reluctance by many players to even commit to the county side and there is no clear direction coming from the top down. There is frustration and a feeling of hopelessness in many clubs and there is unhealthy division. The tail is wagging the dog.

I have fundamental differences of opinion with Duffy's report. There is a lot right with the organisation but over the next few months I will offer a different view of a better GAA for the future.

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