Sunday 8 December 2019

GAA can't be all things to all men at club level

'By the time the sun comes out, a lot of players will have taken their leave. The resolution to get fit and nail down a place on the team will be a distant memory' Photo: Sportsfile
'By the time the sun comes out, a lot of players will have taken their leave. The resolution to get fit and nail down a place on the team will be a distant memory' Photo: Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

The wheels of club activity are being oiled in every county. The bag of jerseys from last year is being rooted out, new balls acquired, a set of fancy bibs for training and plenty of cones too. Somebody will come up with a sponsor for a brand new set of jerseys and a few replacement bulbs for the lights.

Most clubs will get their biggest numbers for training in February and March rather than in the height of summer. By the time the sun comes out and the days have got warmer, a lot of players will have taken their leave. The resolution to get really fit and nail down a place on the team will be a distant memory. The drink which was given up in January is back on the weekend agenda and the diet was too harsh and anyway 'the manager doesn't like me'. That will be the refrain from hundreds of players within a couple of months. It will always be someone else's fault.

If you drive through the country over the next couple of months the night sky will be lit up with clubs hard at work. A great boost to the electricity companies too while the downside is the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted.

One of the problems Ireland has at the moment is meeting our targets as laid down in the recent agreement in Paris. The difficulty is the increasing dairy herd. Now if you go to any club training session at the moment the entire dairy herd of the country would be nothing compared to the amount of panting and farting that would put a multitude of holes in the ozone layer.

The local dogs and foxes are looked after too; there is usually the best of dinners left on the sideline with players not being able to resist mammy's dinner at seven o'clock and paying the price at eight. Like Oscar Wilde said, "I can resist anything except temptation". Yet things have moved on immeasurably in the last 25 or 30 years. Facilities are in general very good and players are well looked after. Clubs take pride in how their players look and the standard of playing attire is excellent. It is not too long ago when a club had one set of jerseys for their senior and junior team. If they were fixed to play after each other in championship games on a Sunday in summer, you can imagine the problem.

The seniors come in after their match and have to hand over their jerseys to the juniors waiting to go out. If you were unfortunate enough to be getting a jersey from a small stocky, overweight corner-back whose jersey was ripped down the front and soaked in sweat then it really tested your commitment to the club. That specimen of a man would now be designated a public health hazard and thrown into quarantine for a week after a game.

Anyway, we all survived. Now everything runs a bit smoother and while burnout is topical with young players it could also happen with chairmen who are trying to keep the pitches from being destroyed at this time of year while team managers are attempting to get teams on the pitch while some players work shifts, others are away at college and a few more are doing the Leaving Cert. Then there is a pile of injuries and others playing out the season at soccer. That is the balancing act of being a club manager, one I know very well as I have been doing it for a long number of years and I, with the rest of my management group, are facing into the same problems again this year.

The biggest change I have seen over the last 20 years is the alteration in work practices. The 9.0 to 5.0, Monday to Friday type are a minority now. There was a time around Navan when it was the gardaí and Tara Mines workers who had difficulty. Now you can add to that the multinationals, like Intel and PayPal, while there are also many who go abroad on Monday morning and are not back until Friday evening.

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Far from seeing it as a problem, I look on it more as a reflection of the great passion for the game that exists in clubs where players are willing to overcome these issues to play to as high a standard as they possibly can. There is a huge amount of self-sacrifice involved and players train hard on their own away from home as they retain a deep sense of pride in their club.

There will be a lot of loose talk about clubs not having regular games at Congress this weekend. It is a pure myth in many cases. In Meath, for example, every club can look forward to about 20 games this year. The league started in early February and most clubs will finish activity in September. I would much prefer a season that started later when weather and pitches were better and ran into autumn when ground and weather conditions are usually more benign, but it is great to have so many matches. It is similar in plenty of counties.

What many mix up is the effect a county team has on the club scene. If I take the example of Meath again, we play away our league matches without county players, I am quite happy to do that. No point in holding up club activity completely for the sake of one or two. Now of course they all play championship with their clubs and there are plenty of counties who designate certain league games where all county players are available.

The point being that clubs can have any amount of games if the county boards get their act together and have a proper fixtures management system. Fourteen or 16 teams in the division sections is the way to ensure that clubs have plenty of games. That is what club players want - plenty of matches, with or without county men.

So a round robin championship format for counties in summer would have absolutely no impact on club football. If there were three games guaranteed for counties in July, club league matches could and would still go ahead. And if Meath and every other county had a three-week break between championship matches in summer, the county men would not play with their club anyway so they might as well play more county matches.

What causes far more headaches for fixtures is the dreaded dual player. One of these can throw a fixtures programme into turmoil and few if any administrators are willing to address this. If a county board were willing to fix football and hurling on the one weekend, it would solve a lot of problems. A player then picks which game he wants to play in; some prefer hurling and some football. Apples and oranges, soccer and rugby, football and hurling, cricket and tiddlywinks, choices, choices. The GAA can't be all things to all men. Better to look after the majority well and let the rest decide on what is their first sport.

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