Thursday 13 December 2018

Ewan MacKenna: We needed someone to say enough of price over principles, of money over morals - and Kildare have

Ewan MacKenna

Ewan MacKenna

It should never have been set up to be the most significant event of the GAA year.

After all it's no more than a Saturday evening game in St Conleth's Park; no more than a rag-tag Kildare outfit limping along in the back door like a sick dog waiting to be put out of its misery; no more than a miserly third-round qualifier so the season can be whittled down to the really big boys; no more than some light, if predictable, entertainment before the serious stuff can start.

Then again what should happen in the GAA has been occurring less and less in recent times.

So here we are. There won't be a referee. There may not even be opposition and rumour has it Christy Moore might instead show up to play some music for the crowd. Regardless, all eyes will be looking in, as Kildare tog and jog out in front of their support - and much promised support from all parts of the country - so they can be thrown out of the championship for following the rules.

How this was needed. And how all the wider association needed someone to stand up and say enough of price over principles, of money over morals, of return over what is clearly right.

This isn't the first time a county has been shafted by a make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach by headquarters that always falls on the side of elitism and more banknotes, but it's the first time a county has said that it has to stop. In what is normally a frustratingly docile and obedient world, it takes serious mismanagement to drive people over the edge. And yet, the GAA have achieved that spectacularly, as the few were convinced they could continue to trample over the many.

What they've essentially engineered is a blink-first situation with one of their own units, when they are the ones not following their promises and guidelines. That is staggering. We'd offer a penny for their thoughts but we know they don't deal in such small numbers.

On Monday morning, when John Horan pulled Kildare from the pot, you can bet a bead of sweat fell from some of the suits who have responsibility for the fairness and integrity of their blue-chip competition. That will have turned into a wall of water when Mayo came next. They'd already announced the first team out was at home, in fact their own website last Friday said as much, stating: “The first team drawn will have home advantage - exception: a Division 3 or 4 team from the current year's Allianz league drawn against a Div 1 or 2 team will have home advantage”. And they'd made all other circumstances clear too such as Breffni Park being closed and Tyrone-Monaghan being off the table. Still, in plain sight they couldn't resist the pay-day.

Why stop and consider when you can cash in? A worthy motto.

Consider the modern mindset and mentality as here you have an organisation that made €65m last year, the majority from gate receipts, and this year they've added extra games to grow that. But they just had to go and throw one more county under the bus for a few quid more. At times with this GAA their decisions bring straight to mind Moe Szyslak at the Springfield Film Festival.

Money gets you one more round, drink it down, you stupid clown Money gets you one more round, you're out on your ass!

Not this time, ladies and gentleman. How refreshing is that?

What's interesting is that this has been a focal point for so much ire around many issues that always favour the best off. And now, you'd think some heads are needed on the block. The GAA talks about its hierarchy as being a business, and certainly acts that way, and in many cases it pays that way. But what happens in business when you mess up? There are consequences. The Sky deal and this suiting them has been thrown into the mix, but it's time to let that go for it's an easy out for the GAA. In essence it turns down the heat on those that ought to be sizzling and frying.

Sources say that initially the Kildare County Board had a carrot dangled in front of them, with Croke Park expecting them to roll over as they have done in the past. But with word seeping out that they may not be at home, the reaction was extraordinary to the point they had to stand up. That's partly because of them being between a rock and a hard place. There's much anger in the county with how matters have been run and this would have led to the sort of revolt that would have seen a turnover of the executive. Standing up to the GAA was also about saving their skin.

As for the GAA trying to save face, it was bumbling and pathetic. There was a panic, as if throwing grease on the fire as nothing else was available, around their mention of health and safety when they struggled to expand on this and it's little wonder. Back in 2015, remedial work including new crash barriers saw the capacity of St Conleth's Park upped to 10,000, although it has since come back to 9,020. That is further reduced by 10 per cent for all ticket games (why we have absolutely no idea), meaning a maximum of 8,118.

Therefore if the Kildare County Board only allow that many to enter they are absolutely complying with what health and safety authorities deem healthy and safe. That is basically why these reports are done, so what's the problem? On that the GAA bafflingly said they were worried about people turning up with no tickets. Are they for real? It was the height of daft and desperate logic.

Some like to bring up the notion of having to cater for season ticket holders who, it is regularly said, have to be accommodated. The above capacity could actually take care of that, but crucially it doesn't have to. The terms and conditions for season tickets clearly state that, “In the event that the number of season ticket holders exceeds stadium capacity the GAA offers no guarantee of the availability of seats or entry to that fixture”. Meanwhile the Cairde Mhaigh Eo ticketing scheme cites the same terms and conditions.

Basically this is not an actual barrier of any sort either, nor is there a problem via local Gardaí who were contacted Monday and confirmed that even with the Irish Derby on up the road at the Curragh, so long as throw-in was seven o'clock all was good. Thus this all comes back to how many tickets the GAA could shift and how much they could make. To claim anything else is disingenuous.

That didn't stop them trying though as, through sheer ego, they backed themselves into a corner. Fergal McGill, the director of games administration, said: “The game has been fixed for 7pm in Croke Park, and that is not going to change under any circumstances.” On top of that they started selling tickets, meaning pride and practicality ought to leave them no opportunity to back down.

One element this GAA have never understood is that home advantage isn't about accommodating everyone or making the most money. It's about what it says on the tin – an advantage through being at home. True St Conleth's Park isn't in good shape but that has nothing do with it. If the quality of your ground was a factor, then the GAA shouldn't have said first out is a guaranteed home game. Also they'd need to make clear what level of stadium is acceptable. They never have. So, with no prior and proper instructions the result as to be that if people miss out, then it's tough luck. They miss out every time there's a sell out but we don't move the Munster hurling final to Croke Park so supply equals demand, and we don't build a bigger stadium for All Ireland deciders.

Sure enough if Kildare wanted to move the game, that was up to them, and backlash would have been an internal issue via a refusal to sell their product to the next generation while giving the local economy a kick, some of which may make its way back into local GAA.

They didn't though. End of.

Thankfully Kildare have no room to maneuver on this going forward, as their board's approach and that of Cian O'Neill means there is no going back. The manager would be out of a job if they aren't in Newbridge on Saturday evening, and the county board have pitched their swords and now all they've to do is not fall on them. It's tough on the players as this is heading towards a walkover, but what would be tougher on those players is to accept this loaded dice. Some on the Mayo team spoken to privately yesterday have also said their opponents are absolutely correct as they train for months on end, have an advantage earned whipped away, and are left to face this mess that's not of their makings rather than being allowed to concentrate on an elimination game just days away.

What it all means is the GAA can't win, and Kildare can't lose no matter the outcome. The bully tried to do his thing and was caught out, but if the association needed a bloody nose, then it isn't bleeding just yet. This has to be the start rather than the end and the GPA rowing in with Kildare is big for does it mean Mayo show up in Newbridge and both are kicked out? Do other counties down tools? And should Kildare not give relevant notice of a forfeit, do the GAA have the courage to throw them out of 2019.

Their path is far from clear but the road Kildare must walk is. If and when they're excluded, it's time to take the legal route. While they may not win in court, it could put the summer on hold until there's a verdict around their situation. That would be a serious statement and would help continue a serious lesson that those at the top, so out of touch with ordinary GAA people, need to learn.

The saying goes that greed makes man blind and foolish, and makes him an easy prey for death. That sentiment is being proven as even if Kildare walk away from the championship, they'll have had the best and most important summer of anyone.

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