Sunday 20 May 2018

Comment: Rule-makers mutate into rule-breakers as counties openly flout new laws

Breheny Beat

Kieran McGeeney and Davy Fitzgerald
Kieran McGeeney and Davy Fitzgerald
Some officials are allowing county teams break the new training-camp ban, despite having voted in stricter regulations last year. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The GAA decided last September that extended training camps for senior inter-county panels needed to be curtailed between the end of the Allianz Leagues and the All-Ireland championships.

Whether at home or abroad, they always involve weekends and were deemed to have a negative impact on club activity.

A rule, banning such camps outside of the 10 days before championship games (17 days in the case of All-Ireland finals) was already in place, but, bizarrely, carried no sanction for violation.

Effectively, it was no more than a noble aspiration on behalf of clubs. In real terms, it was useless, so Special Congress added a punishment, whereby breaking the rule would result in a county losing home advantage for one league game in the following season.

It wasn't exactly a swingeing crackdown but at least it sent out a message to county boards that if they allowed their managers to ignore the rule, some penalty would accrue.

Responsibilities

The motion sailed through Special Congress, voted in by county delegates who obviously regarded it as a good idea. Seven months later, the new rule has failed.

Armagh footballers and Wexford hurlers whizzed off to Portugal last week and there are also reports of other counties running weekend training camps at various locations back home. Business as usual then.

Armagh and Wexford provide the most blatant examples of ignoring the rule. Yet, other than ordering that they lose home advantage for one league game next year, there's little the Croke Park authorities can do, other than wagging their fingers and shouting 'down with this sort of thing'.

There's no question of anyone being held individually responsible.

It may be within the powers of the Management Committee to summon senior county officers from errant counties to Croke Park for a dressing-down but that's as far as it can go.

There's no provision for suspensions or any other sanction on individuals. In effect, county boards can blatantly ignore the rule without fear of any individual punishments.

What does it say about the GAA's overall governance structures when constituent bodies, who are involved in framing rules, proceed to ignore them? Actually, it screams 'dysfunction'.

How can senior officers in Armagh and Wexford stand over a rule violation while, at the same time, running the disciplinary systems in their own counties?

They will, no doubt, cite various rules when dealing with clubs or individuals, in which case those facing them who would be perfectly entitled to respond: 'what about the county board and the regulations on training camps? Did you uphold those?'

Organising an overseas training camp is a big logistical operation so it's not as if county boards can claim they know nothing about them.

Presumably, managers have to clear such ventures with boards who, if they were doing their job properly, would simply point to the rule book and say 'no can do'.

Or have board officers ceded so much control to managers that they are unable to resist any demand, even when it involves breaking rules?

Obviously, Kieran McGeeney and Davy Fitzgerald were keen on overseas training for their squads but they would have had to get county board permission to proceed.

No blame attaches to the managers, since they always do whatever they deem best for their squad, but the broader principle demands that county boards discharge their responsibility when it comes to upholding rules, which they helped form.

The restriction on training camps wasn't prompted by a mean-spirited reaction to the pursuit of excellence but rather as an aid to club activity, which is now the most contentious issue in the GAA.

It has been beyond comical in recent weeks to hear 'that crowd in Croke Park' coming under attack because April didn't deliver as much club activity as expected after it was declared an inter-county-free month.

Who runs local programmes, Croke Park or county boards? And if counties didn't agree with a 'free April', why was there no opposition?

Bucks are being passed at an astonishing rate, usually accompanied by jibes about the 'suits in Croke Park'.

That might make for snappy sound-bytes but it's ignoring a reality which won't go away: county boards have to show more discipline and courage.

Bans on challenge games except on Mondays/Tuesdays/Wednesdays are also in place pre-championship but that hasn't stopped some counties organising them or seeking a derogation from the rule on the flimsiest of grounds.

It's a case of backing rules when they are introduced, before trying to find a method of circumventing them. Ultimately, everyone loses in a duplicitous environment where what people say and do are completely different.

We have left April behind and attention switches to the All-Ireland championships for the next four months, before returning to the club scene after the football final on September 2.

It would be nice to think that progress is being made towards reaching greater harmony between the club and county game but that's not the case.

Clearing April of inter-county activity appears to have achieved nothing except restricting the GAA's promotional opportunities and reaffirming the view that the 'rules are made to broken' mentality is stronger than ever.

Irish Independent

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