An insult to common sense
JUST because there's no easy answer to a puzzle doesn't mean the pursuit of a solution should be abandoned. On the contrary, it demands even more attention. The GAA can argue it did that for the inter-provincials by having yet another special committee recently investigate ways of increasing the stock value of a competition which has shed much of its public appeal.
Much of the decline was down to a failure by the GAA authorities to react imaginatively to the initial slump decades ago, but there's no point dwelling on that now. As things stand, many senior GAA officials want the inter-pros scrapped due to public apathy, cost and scheduling difficulties.
However, the players favour their retention and, so far at least, the culling squad has been unable to persuade a majority of Central Council to hand them the gun. The inter-pro committee came up with a number of timing alternatives, but for reasons which mock logic, Central Council decided last Saturday to play the 2013 competitions in February to early March.
Those who are indifferent to the future of the inter-pros might regard it as utterly irrelevant when they are played, but there's a wider issue here. If it's the considered wisdom of Central Council to time the inter-pros for the busiest time of the year, how can they be trusted to sort out the more pressing issue of scheduling overall programmes across the full range of club, county and college activity?
Balancing the many demands of two interlinked and multi-layered sports is extremely difficult, prompting regular claims of club activity strangulation. It has also contributed to complaints that many younger players face burnout hell over the first three months of the year as they try to cope with demands from county (senior and U-21), college and, in some cases, club.
Central Council have now decided to continue with the inter-pros in spring (at least for 2013), further increasing opposition to their existence since county managers want as much time as possible with their players for the league campaigns.
The lopsided nature of the GAA schedule, which front-loads so much activity into the first quarter, is underlined by the following fixtures breakdown which shows that:
• Over half of inter-county football and hurling games across all grades are played in January-March.
l By the end of April, almost 70pc of the entire inter-county programme has been completed.
• Almost 90pc is completed in the first six months of the year and 97pc by the end of July.
• Only 3pc of the inter-county programme takes place in August-September, while there are no games at all in the closing three months of the year.
• There are more inter-county games in January than in any other month except March and April. Next January will stage eight times as many inter-county games as August.
Against this background, the decision to play the inter-pros in spring has to be seen as an affront to common sense. A far more logical option would be to play them over two weekends in late October/early November at a time when the only reasonably high-profile GAA activity is provided by the provincial club championships.
However, with only one club representing each county, the majority of county players would be available for the inter-pros at this time of year.
As public attractions, the inter-pros will never return to the boom years, but they could still be harnessed to boost promotion of the GAA at a time of year when 'live' coverage -- plus extensive highlights/magazine programmes -- of soccer and rugby are dominating TV schedules and also enjoying huge space in the print media.
A few months ago, a senior GAA official remarked to me -- jocosely I hope, but I couldn't be sure -- that he presumed once the All-Ireland finals were over GAA journalists would return to "low-brow analysis of what we're supposed to be doing wrong".
To which, there could only be one answer: "Would you prefer wall-to-wall coverage of other sports because the GAA sure as hell ain't doing much to compete with them over the last three months of the year."
Criticising the decision to dump the inter-pros in at the busiest point of the season instead of playing them much later on may qualify as low-brow analysis in some quarters, but I'm happy to have that case tried before the court of common sense anywhere, anytime.