Sunday 18 August 2019

Colm O'Rourke: Galling Nama sell-out highlights a victory for commerce over community

Paraic Duffy’s report, if implemented, could have a hugely beneficial impact on underage GAA football
Paraic Duffy’s report, if implemented, could have a hugely beneficial impact on underage GAA football
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Always strange the way you see things when out and about without a shotgun. That great institution Nama, which has done the State so little service, rumbles on. A few months ago, I drew attention to the disgrace of the Spawell centre in Dublin which many believe should have gone to the Dublin GAA but instead was sold off to some unknown investor, despite the Dublin County Board being willing to pay the original sticker price.

Part of the legislation setting up Nama gave it the power to ensure that land could be given to schools, hospitals, sports organisations, etc - in other words, for the common good. At the time I posed serious questions about Nama, and the esteemed Minister Ring came in with a few low blows to try and defend his lack of intervention on behalf of sport. Now a boot boy and Mayo don't go together, if they did Mayo would have won several All-Irelands recently. Anyway, the good news is that Westport House has been saved.

None of the massive land banks which could have made Ireland a world leader in sports facilities have gone to any sport. Land and properties have generally been sold to international hedge funds who will, in time, sell back to the Irish at massive profits. Some of this has already happened. It is not being questioned by our cowardly politicians or financial journalists. Just like Jesus, the country has been betrayed for 40 pieces of silver. And the new golden circle have reaped huge dividends -accountants, solicitors, barristers, advisers of all sorts, auctioneers, receivers. The list on the inside track is long.

Even more galling are claims by Nama that it has been a success. Cerberus, one of the international buyers, certainly think so and a spokesperson recently said how happy they were to continue working in Ireland. Why wouldn't they? They, and a few select others, have plundered some of the best assets. It is like taking sweets from a baby. The people who run Nama have never given any explanation as to why all these assets, which are owned by the taxpayer, have to be sold in such huge volumes instead of giving citizens the chance to bid for local properties up and down the country in thousands of auctions which would have breathed life into rural Ireland.

History will treat harshly those who sold out, the politicians who stood idly by and the management of Nama who have placed commerce above community. Instead of protesting about water charges, the public should be marching on this issue, the greatest scandal in the history of the State.

Paying for water is buttons compared to this, but at least Westport House has been saved. And the GAA have got nothing from it except banks continuing to put pressure on for the repayment of loans. A banana Republic. A grubby one at that, where people representing the ordinary punter won't ask the hard questions.

On to more hard questions. Last week, Paraic Duffy took on the competitions overload in an old-fashioned, full-frontal charge. No yellow card either, but a fairly considered response from the media, and most of it positive. Except county boards and provincial councils are a different animal entirely and have not paid much attention in the past to doing the right thing for players.

In effect, this whole procedure is a three-legged stool. The attempt to sort fixtures must be accompanied by two other strands. First is the rules committee report, which is eagerly awaited. I have commented on this in the past but it won't be worth the paper it is written on if it does not tackle handpassing. Maybe they will be emboldened by the good reaction to the Duffy report and make changes which, if carried out at underage level, would have a profound and beneficial effect on football.

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The new fixtures format report for the All-Ireland will try to square all sorts of circles. At least there is general agreement that the current system is seriously malfunctioning and getting worse. There is no point in even talking about provincial reform, as that is not going to happen even if that system is one of the root causes of problems. Whoever came up with the idea of provinces with different numbers of counties had a warped sense of logic.

So the only real changes can be made after provincial finals. This presents an opportunity for division one and two championships to take place then. Players can complain all they like but most put in no effort in the qualifiers, so they have to go. If the first two divisions of the League, 16 teams, played off for the All-Ireland, it would be a system based on merit, like the senior and intermediate championships in any county.

It would work something like this: Four groups of four in the division one championship. Each team gets three games and the top two go into quarter-finals. The groups could look something like this - Group 1: Dublin, Armagh, Derry, Roscommon. Group 2: Kerry, Meath, Donegal, Down. Group 3: Mayo, Tyrone, Laois, Fermanagh. Group 4: Monaghan, Cork, Galway, Cavan.

The provincial finals would have to finish earlier and teams would play home or away in the month of July, two home or one away to be reversed every year, three weekends in a row. The top two to qualify from each group and then All-Ireland quarters, semis and final as per usual. Six games in a short space of time and to finish earlier in September on the basis of the Duffy directive.

The bottom team in each group would play off to decide on the two going down. Imagine the attraction of some of these games: Dublin away to Armagh, Kerry in Newry. The crowds would be enormous in summer and there would be major financial benefits - which would have to be distributed to the division two championship teams.

Then the division two championship - Group 1: Kildare, Antrim, Limerick, Louth. Group 2: Westmeath, London, Tipperary, Carlow. Group 3: Longford, Offaly, Waterford, Clare. Group 4: Sligo, Leitrim, Wicklow, Wexford.

The same format could apply, but this competition would need to finish earlier so that semi-finals and the final could be matched in with quarter-finals and semi-finals of the division one championship. With all games from quarter-finals on to be played in Croke Park.

There would a lot of crying about those placed in the second tier, but with both finalists to be promoted, teams that are good enough would be in the top tier after a year. A committee of three or four could do the grading based on league placings, so nobody could complain.

Naturally, there would be dead-rubbers in the second tier, but is that better or worse than 20-point hammerings in the qualifiers?

Of course, there would be the usual arguments about clubs. There is no reason why clubs could not have a well-organised league running throughout the summer - without county players - with a championship in the autumn. It would be an improvement on what is there at the moment, anyway. What this system does offer is summer football for all, home games, novel pairings and an opportunity to improve and win something, while making the race for Sam a really worthwhile contest.

There are shortcomings in this system, too, but it would complete the three-legged stool of competitions, rules and a new and better fixture system.

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