Thursday 14 December 2017

GAA must return to heeding the desires of its members

Paudie McGuigan, Slaughtneil, celebrates at the final whistle after victory over Austin Stacks
Paudie McGuigan, Slaughtneil, celebrates at the final whistle after victory over Austin Stacks

Eamonn Sweeney

Slaughtneil's victory over Austin Stacks in last Sunday's All-Ireland club football semi-final was as stirring an effort as you'd see in many a long day. The Ulster champions recovered from a six-point first-half deficit in Portlaoise, edging home by a single point in a thrilling finish to book a place in the final against Corofin on St Patrick's Day.

The Derry side are the kind of team who epitomise what is best about the club championship, one of those small rural outfits who by right shouldn't be able to compete with sides who boast much greater playing populations. But they do and they end up centre stage on one of the great dates in the GAA calendar.

So it's mind-boggling to think that this may well be the last time we see club finals on St Patrick's Day thanks to the Central Council of the GAA's decision that all competitions must be completed within the same calendar year.

The decision to move the finals from St Patrick's Day to what will in all likelihood be some date deep in the depths of December is as foolish as anything Croke Park have ever come up with. The measure is apparently supposed to prevent fixture congestion by encouraging counties to conclude club competitions earlier, but it's hard to see how this is going to be achieved.

What mainly drives fixture congestion is the willingness of County Boards to give into the demands of county managers who want to have the minimal amount of club football played during the inter-county championship season. The easiest way to end congestion would be to prevent those boards from cancelling championship matches en bloc to suit those managers but the GAA have taken the easy way out by refusing to address the central issue.

So we may well have more ludicrous situations like that in Donegal last year where all senior championship football was cancelled, largely at the behest of Jim McGuinness, until the inter-county side were knocked out of the All-Ireland series. Sad to say, a lot of people who support the calendar year system would be praising Donegal's lunatic decision of a year ago as a masterstroke and urging its widespread emulation had the county gone on to win the All-Ireland.

It's hard to see why Central Council couldn't have exempted the senior club championships from this proposal given that only eight teams out of the thousands within the Association are affected each year. And there's a certain irony in that an Association which never tires of trying to entice people to take an interest in pointless stuff like the Railway Cup and the international rules series now wants to kill off a big occasion whose appeal has grown organically over the years with very little hype or marketing.

Suggestions that the club finals will be replaced on March 17 by a double bill of Dublin National League games hardly fill the heart with joy and will only cement the impression among rural GAA followers that there is a Croke Park obsession with bigging up the Dubs at every opportunity. Perhaps there are some officials who think it's a bit of a waste of time giving Headquarters over to four teams of culchies when Patrick's Day could be turned into a big Dublin day out.

Whatever the reasoning, there's no question that moving the club finals to December will significantly downgrade the occasion. Club players all over the country have grown up dreaming of strutting their stuff at Croke Park on St Patrick's Day, it simply won't be the same when the final takes place on December 17 and is their sixth game in eight weeks.

Meanwhile, some Croke Park jobsworth last week dismissed as incorrect the suggestion that GAA members won't be able to debate the Sky Sports deal at Congress. They'll be able to debate it away, said the hapless factotum, they just won't be able to vote on it because it's none of their business. The GAA apparently think this is "democratic," and so it is if you think the German Democratic Republic, otherwise known as East Germany, was democratic.

They're also trying to put the kibosh on the hooter/timekeeping system coming in even though motions in favour of it have been overwhelmingly passed at the last two Congresses. In the modern-day GAA you don't get what you want, you get what they think you should want.

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