Tuesday 23 January 2018

Comment: Players can get policy wrong too - blaming 'out-of-touch suits' is unfair

Portraying move to alter football format as victory for 'suits' over players is unfair

A delegate prepares to vote ‘Yes’ during last weekend’s GAA annual Congress in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
A delegate prepares to vote ‘Yes’ during last weekend’s GAA annual Congress in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

I once had a spell as secretary of my home club in Galway, Kilkerrin-Clonberne. It was in the 1970s, a time when I was working in the 'Tuam Herald' and, according to my club colleagues, ideally suited to the role of secretary as well as bringing modest playing talents to the bid to escape the junior ranks.

They were terrible judges. Now Kilkerrin-Clonberne has produced some fine representatives in its time, including Johnny Geraghty and Christy Tyrrell from the great Galway three-in-a-row team of the 1960s, John Divilly, centre-back on the 1998 All-Ireland-winning team, and Shane Walsh nowadays.

Admiration

However, its secretary in 1977-'78 does not come under the 'fine representatives' heading. Right from the start, I hated the job, the meetings, the form-filling in triplicate, the registrations and all the other paperwork.

My term as secretary was quite short but it did leave me with genuine admiration for voluntary administrators everywhere. Nowadays, they are referred to as 'the suits', not in recognition of their sartorial elegance but as a disparaging put-down, accompanied by an unequivocal conclusion that they "are out of touch with the players".

Much of the reaction to the football championship changes, decided at Congress last Saturday, has been along those lines, blithely ignoring some simple realities.

Of course, Twitter doesn't accommodate reasoned debate, instead dealing in instant conclusions, where words like 'disgraceful', 'shocking' and 'ridiculous' virtually key in themselves.

Accept that view and you'll believe that 'the suits' bulldozed the championship changes through a field of innocents who were crushed before they knew it.

Here's the real version. The proposals were first published last August, receiving widespread publicity.

That continued up to - and following - the Central Council decision, taken at a specially-convened meeting on October 29, to bring them to Congress.

Despite being represented on Central Council, the GPA raised no objections at that meeting or in the months that followed. Indeed, it offered no opinion until last Wednesday, by which time most counties were mandated on how to vote. So however easy it might be to portray Congress delegates as out-of-touch 'suits', players might be better advised to focus on why their representative body was not engaged with the debate much earlier.

There's another point too. Even if the GPA vote (70-30 against the 'round robin') had been taken much earlier, how much weight should it have carried? There seems to be a view in the GAA that changes should only be allowed if they have the majority backing of players.

Does that happen in rugby or soccer, either at home or abroad? Of course not. Some consultation may take place but only as part of a much wider process, involving a lot more stakeholders than players. And since the GPA are now so prominent in the GAA, they could have initiated consultation at any time.

For the record, I am opposed to the 'round robin' and to bringing forward the finals to August on the basis that the former doesn't address the real issues in the championship while removing September from the inter-county scene is a promotional own goal.

Challenges

And lest anybody accuses me of siding with the establishment on a more general basis, this column challenges decisions and policies on a very regular basis. However, in the interests of fairness, the notion that 'suits' somehow betrayed uninformed players last weekend is wrong.

A final point. Players aren't always right. Nor are they the only ones making a sizeable contribution to the GAA.

It's easy to court popularity by being on the side of the players, irrespective of what stance they take on any issues, while depicting everyone else as out-of-touch dinosaurs. What would happen to the GAA if the many people who work for nothing in clubs, counties, schools and colleges opted out and pursued other interests?

The Association would collapse overnight. Yes, players are the lifeblood of the GAA but it would have nowhere to circulate if the body wasn't functioning on other fronts. It's more of a partnership than some of the 'suit' bashers would have you believe and should be recognised as such.

Irish Independent

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