Eugene McGee: Power of modern managers is the elephant in the room
There were a lot of voices from all corners of Ireland and abroad resonating around Croke Park at the weekend at GAA Congress. But strangely, among all the conversations over the two days, the most important group of people in the entire GAA system was totally silent. Not a word out of them, not even their physical presence was seen at this great gathering.
If ever there was a definition of the term 'elephant in the room' in any gathering of people this was it. This time the 'elephant' consisted of GAA team managers.
There was a lot of fancy talk at Congress about all sorts of topics but the majority were related to managers, even though in the quaint way in which the GAA often likes to conduct its business, the topic was never confronted directly, preferring instead to talk in circles.
Hardly surprising, since there is no reference whatsoever in the GAA's Official Guide to the term team manager, as if they don't exist. Exist? They run the GAA nowadays. All the talk about club and county fixtures emanates from the control that county team managers in particular have nowadays.
So while Páraic Duffy and colleagues devise new schemes for championship plans, All-Ireland final dates, draws in big games etc. They are merely skirting around the real problem, the control that managers have in the GAA.
The GPA, the CPA, county boards and even Croke Park are not able to control team managers, which explains why all sorts of recent airy-fairy plans from every Tom, Dick and Harry around the country to revise fixture-making is such a fruitless exercise, so long as managers retain their present control.
There is a committee in every county which is supposed to have total control over fixture-making, but it is largely ignored when the team manager comes knocking. And the power of managers continues to grow.
Team panels have been increased up to as many as 35 people, which prevents still more club fixtures taking place. Weekends away and training abroad are now regular happenings, thereby damaging fixtures. And all the while club players and county board officers, as well of course as leading GAA officials, are left with no choice but to stand idly by.
There was no talk of managers 25 years ago because then it was county chairmen and secretaries who controlled the GAA and consultation was the norm. But today these people are largely powerless when it comes to fixture-making, and if you want to find out why we have all the hullabaloo about fixtures nowadays, the answer is simple - team managers. They control the availability of players for club and county games and therefore control all fixture-making.
So the arrival of the so-called 'Super 8', what a stupid name, can be traced to managers and the aspiration that club fixtures in summer-time can be made better by having more games for the top players, instead of less.
This innovation, while having some advantages such as more money for the GAA and a home fixture, practically ensures no weak county will reach the closing stages - like Tipperary last year - because they will have to beat at least two stronger teams. It also means, in my opinion, a team could lose three times in the championship and still win the All-Ireland - is this what the Sam Maguire Cup was meant to be?
The most hurtful decision for many people that was passed, including myself, was to move the All-Ireland finals from September into August. Is there nothing sacred in the GAA? September and All-Ireland finals have been ingrained into the psyche of Ireland for a century.
Many GAA people structure their whole year around them. Emigrants who make annual September trips will have to recycle their plans. It marked the end of summer and a look ahead at the next year - now everything has changed utterly.
The GAA have massive media operations nowadays but if they think this move to August will not damage GAA promotion they are living in cloud cuckoo land. Of course other sports will dominate media coverage from September on to a far greater degree than recently. Thousands of secondary school students will be watching other sports on television when they would normally be very interested in the two All-Ireland finals in September.
Presumably RTÉ television will disappear a month earlier which is good news for Michael Lyster and will spare us at least some 'Sunday Game' hysterics.
The decision to abolish replays makes sense but I wonder if that will also apply to other games such as club matches and colleges games?
Far be it for me to give advice, but if I was asked, I would simply say: 'Rein in all team managers with very strict, enforceable national terms of reference that will restore the balance between fixture-making and team managers".
Then people like the GAA hierarchy, the GPA, the CPA and any others involved would be contesting on equal terms with managers. That is far from being the case now and it is time people started facing up to the truth and forget about all other half-baked ideas floating around the GAA.