Sunday 22 April 2018

Eamonn O'Hara: Friday fixtures a winner but players must not lose out

Amateurs should be compensated for taking time off work.

Eamonn O'Hara

In the GAA down through the years change has generally been met with fear and negativity. From the introduction of the GPA to the back-door system and rule 42, there has rarely been a smooth path for new initiatives and unsurprisingly the Friday night games have followed suit.

Now of course players are going to be a bit peeved at being served the fixture with limited notice to sort out their work and family situations. Not every boss is a GAA fan and may not understand the commitments required. But ultimately some players will have to take a day or a half-day of holidays which compensation has not yet been agreed for.

And of course managers aren't going to be too happy that their routine preparations for a winner-takes-all championship match were thrown into disarray. But these are the curve balls that GAA players deal with so competently and effectively, and the way they react and adapt is what makes them such outstanding men and leaders.

The way Laois and Carlow acted is a testament to this; they were given just 11 days' notice to play Friday night's game and aside from a few kneejerk tweets from a small number of players, they regrouped, focused on their game and got on with it.

Admittedly, the GAA and the CCCC had the right idea regarding a Friday night game but they went about implementing their forward-thinking plan in the wrong fashion. At the start of the season or whenever they happened upon the idea – it definitely wasn't 11 days before last Friday night's game – they should have set out their stall, been up front about their intentions and made the players and managers aware of the possibility of needing to reserve a Friday for a qualifier game. That clarity could have saved a lot of hassle and negativity towards this idea.

But all that aside the players need to come first and they should be compensated for giving time out of their working week to play an amateur game as I was when I played International Rules in Australia.

I'm not talking big bucks or pay for play because it's not about that but perhaps a voucher for a sports store or even €100 in cash for every lad on a panel who is involved in the particular game.

That wouldn't break that bank; it could be worked into the players' expenses at the end of the month so they don't feel in any way hard done by. Lads who play football and hurling are not doing it to make money, there is no disputing that fact, but they should be entitled to break even. It's not a lot to ask for. Fair is fair.

Overall, I think it's a great initiative, a chance to grow the product that is the GAA and I'd love to see a few more of them being fixed in the future. There is Friday-night football all around the world and from a spectator point of view it's fantastic to have it and it has proven to be a great success. It's a chance to meet up with friends after work, go for a few drinks and soak up the atmosphere that goes hand in hand with watching an evening game.

From my own point of view, as a player who was involved up until recently, I loved playing on a Saturday night; in fact I'd take a later throw-in over a Sunday afternoon one every time.

Today I'll be watching Sligo take on Derry as a Sligo supporter and every part of me wants them to win. I genuinely believe that they will win this one. Fair enough, we've lost Tony Taylor but David Kelly returns and the team have tried out a few different things in challenge games and they worked so I'm confident they have what it takes.

Recently I've been critical of Kevin Walsh and I stand over that.

I won't go into the facts and figures but I know that if you lose to London after five years with a team it's not good enough. I don't accept it. Surely our standards in Sligo are higher than that; I expected the team to win a Connacht title this year.

I know the players had goals that they set out at the start of the season and winning only two out of seven league games and losing to London was not part of the plan. People might say I'm being over-critical or have an axe to grind but I'm looking at the overall picture, all the results.

Is getting three or four wins on the bounce in the qualifiers a good year? Will people be satisfied with that? Not me. I expect more, I want success. I would give up winning three qualifiers for winning one Connacht title.

Good results don't mean you've been successful; doing good work with a team doesn't mean you have been successful; winning titles does. I want an All-Ireland for Sligo; I want to dream like someone from Dublin, Kerry or Donegal.

Kevin will go on to bigger and better teams and will be successful and I'll always be a Sligo supporter.

Irish Independent

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