Friday 15 December 2017

Congress too remote from the real problems facing football and hurling

I have been a follower and supporter of the GAA for more than 80 years. (stock picture)
I have been a follower and supporter of the GAA for more than 80 years. (stock picture)


As the Sunday Independent is the most widely read paper in the country, I would greatly appreciate you publishing this letter and hope it leads to comment and discussion.

I have been a follower and supporter of the GAA for more than 80 years. I am convinced it is facing a crisis which is inevitable, if not immediate, if action is not taken. Like many others I have been amazed at the advances made by the GAA over the years, organisation, stadia etc. It has built on, and built, loyalty into parish, county and even country. Could it possibly be in danger?

The GAA is an amateur organisation. Its core value is its democracy and willingness to make sacrifices for a cause. Its supreme authority is its Annual Congress, which meets only once a year and requires a two-thirds majority to enact anything. Congress is given great respect but also gives great direction and guidance in return. However, it may have been the cause of the neglect of our games.

Why? It is being asked to do something for which it is not suited. We need a Hurling Board and a Football Board which can fine-tune our games and preserve them. Many of us who have been following Gaelic games for three quarters of a century or more can see a big decline in skills, attractiveness, and especially spontaneity. It is not just football that has suffered. Football has suffered and that fact has been emphasised by so many sports writers. But hurling has also suffered. Many skills have also disappeared from hurling. Someone described hurling as a game of one dimension now. Watching the shinty-hurling game between Ireland and Scotland explained to me what that means. We could re-learn a lot from shinty, without necessarily trying to imitate it.

We should start by asking ourselves some fundamental questions.

Why are players retiring at a younger age?

Why are there so many cases of limb and muscle damage as Joe Brolly pointed out.

Why are so many suffering from burnout, hurling and football?

Anthony Cunningham pointed out that hurling at inter-county level demanded 24/7 commitment from the top teams.

Another question: Do we want our games to be determined by skill or by physical fitness? Do we want power and possession to be the dominant factor, the cutting edge? If we do we must pay the price, and we are beginning to pay the price.

That shinty game with Scotland would have caused very little burnout or muscle damage. It is the preparation for the kind of game we are playing that is causing the problem, not so much the number of games, though that of course is also a consideration.

A second important consideration is the economical cost of preparing teams. We are already at semi-professional status not only in our leading county teams, but also in many cases some of our leading clubs. The competition is increasing the pressure all the time. The reality is that with our population base, especially in hurling, we cannot afford it. The signs of the crisis are already there.

Can we change? Yes we can. It is more a change of direction than anything else. There we need the support of Congress. We need only to change a few rules. But we do need consistent implementation of existing rules, which we have not got. That is where we especially need a hurling and football board. But it must have authority. Congress is too remote and unwieldy. It would not accomplish that fine-tuning in years. Congress, however, needs to throw its weight and authority behind these changes.

That is where repeated messages from the media are important. We are all preoccupied with our own lives and need those reminders. We are all amateurs of course. However, it would be a pity to allow such a wonderful organisation as the GAA become a mere shadow of itself. The country would be all the poorer as a result.

Best regards, James Neville, Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick

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