Tuesday 20 February 2018

In difficult times clubs need all the help they can get

Those who want real change in the GAA should get involved, says Colm O'Rourke

The time of real intrigue and plotting is upon us with annual general meetings taking place in clubs all over the country. At least that was the way in the past, but it seems that the GAA at all levels is gripped by indifference and many don't even care enough to attend the AGM of their club.

As for the county convention, most GAA people would prefer a prison sentence than be summoned to the annual gathering. A pity too as many who complain are not in a very strong position. Those who want change in the GAA have choices: get involved or keep quiet. There are far too many hurlers on the ditch.

A healthy club should have open competition for jobs. Unfortunately, it is not like that in most places. The majority of club AGMs will suffer from a lack of numbers attending. And players seem to avoid these meetings like the plague, even though the decisions made impact on them more than any other group.

There are the occasional coups which can bring a bit of spice. In these cases the real meeting takes place well before the AGM and this is when there is usually a heavy player involvement. The purpose is often to get a new team manager appointed or else to put in a new chairman or secretary in the belief that his presence will revolutionise the club.

Sometimes it does work. One good man at the top can provide the leadership which allows others with talent to flourish. Such a move can also attract in new people who can provide a whole new set of skills, and in this regard few clubs are maximising their potential as many will do a job if asked but just don't bother putting themselves forward.

One of the reasons for this at the moment is that clubs are tied up in problems which are not directly related to the business of running football or hurling. One of these is where clubs have overstretched financially and those who are running the club are in a constant battle with members and financial institutions to stay afloat. If all the clubs in the country just said no it would hardly lead to mass liquidations; most clubs' property is of little value for anything else so maybe clubs should just give the whole lot back to the banks and seek a 50-year lease at a nominal rent.

Something has to give on this soon. Many clubs who looked to the future now have bars which are losing money and incurring heavy council rates, big halls which are empty and crippling debts. These are businesses, they are not clubs anymore and many long for the day of having good dressing rooms and a couple of pitches and nothing else. The constant worry over finance is bad enough for individuals when it is about themselves but when it extends to the club, which is supposed to be about enjoyment, then it is a bridge too far. And so many stay away from AGMs in case they would get a job. The energy of the organisation should be about people and teams not the other stuff which causes stress and despair.

So if a crowd of young people arrive at your AGM – and nearly all the players – you can be sure that there is something up. And if you are an important member of the club, or at least think you are, you should be very happy to see this. At the very least it shows interest and revolutions like these rarely last. In a year the old order will usually return. It takes a special type to sit at meetings and the young brigade find that big changes don't just happen overnight in the GAA. It will always be a case of the old dog for the hard road when it comes to running clubs. The zeal of young people can often be completely smothered with kindness.

County conventions are no different. It is musical chairs. That is not a problem if the chairs are passed between people of talent and vision but if it is something other than that then young administrators are frozen out. The rule on holding a position for five years should be extended so those dropping out of one position cannot take any other post on the executive for at least three years. That would force real change, not the cosmetic type there is at the moment.

So while counties are in practice working democracies it is only so up to a point. Those who sit on committees, man the turnstiles and are the foot soldiers must also incorporate a layer of young professionals in marketing, finance, advertising, web design and games development. The best counties bring in these people but don't necessarily need them at every dog and pony show. The future for many counties is not very bright unless those at the top recognise the need to trust non-elected people to plot where the organisation should be going.

The news last week that Pádraic Joyce was retiring from inter-county football more or less brings to an end the links with the great Galway team of over a decade ago. Joyce was an outstanding contributor to those teams and played long after the roar of the crowd had died for recent Galway teams. That Galway team had style and

substance and many great players who were of similar age.

Comparisons of players with previous greats are odious. Michael Donnellan was the best all-round Galway player of that team but injury robbed him of many years while Joyce continued at a consistently high standard for 15 years. My father always maintained that Seán Purcell was the best player he ever saw but every generation has great players and Joyce was certainly one of them.

Some weeks ago, I wrote about teams which changed football for the better and the Galway team of the '60s was one which I left out, a sort of mental blank I suppose as that side made more of a mark than nearly any other. One of the reasons for that was that they were the first well-educated team in the GAA. Many came through colleges and university football and had a big advantage over others in terms of constant high-quality football. Many other county players had far less competition at the time. Galway, as a result, had more skill than most and really should have won more than three All-Irelands in a row if they had been minded properly. Many of that side were allowed to drift away far too early from the game, and some had even retired well before they were 30.

Pádraic Joyce is another player in that Galway tradition, a man of skill, class and imagination who also made a huge contribution to his club Killererin – in many ways the real mark of a great player. He gave a lot of himself but got a lot back in a great career. Galway could do with a few like him now.

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