Sunday 17 December 2017

Inclusivity replaced by exclusivity as select club reap the rewards

To echo the words of GAA director- general Paraic Duffy, there is “no magic bullet” and “no easy solution” to the structural quagmire. Stock Photo: Sportsfile
To echo the words of GAA director- general Paraic Duffy, there is “no magic bullet” and “no easy solution” to the structural quagmire. Stock Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

With much talk about the widening gap between football's top tier and the chasing pack, yesterday's structural proposals served as another means of further extending that gap.

The eight top teams in the country will play off in a Champions League-style programme split into two groups, each getting a minimum of three games, while the remainder twiddle their thumbs for the majority of the summer.

Weaker counties by their very nature require more games and opportunities to progress. How is a game defined by tiers and levels going to do give them those opportunities when some are being nurtured, and others neglected?

The foundations of the GAA are built on participation and competition with counties engaging to the best of their ability but inclusivity is being replaced by exclusivity with a select club reaping all the rewards.

While the eight extra games will provide extra drama with the season's end in sight, and no doubt bolster GAA coffers significantly with increased attendances and gate receipts, only one quarter of the country will be involved.

The most pressing issue is trying to raise the standard in weaker counties, giving them more opportunities to progress rather than encouraging regression. Weaker counties by their very definition are struggling in some aspects.

Watching on from the sidelines in the height of summer will not solve this. While the best players are being exposed to the best opposition, year on year, weaker counties will not be afforded the same chances to improve.

There's already widespread reports of numerous players making themselves unavailable to their inter-county managers with little opportunity for success and a lack of meaningful games a driving force. If we continue in this manner, counties will slowly die out.

Players will refuse to make that commitment. Money and revenue are not the be all and end all whereas continuous development and ensuring that we have a structure which allows 31 counties to compete on a level playing field is essential.

While change to a failing structure is admirable, why start at the top? The bottom is where the real problems lie. But at present the rich are getting richer while the poor get poorer and more games for the best, and no change for the lesser lights, who need change, is not a solution.

The big, powerful squads will continue to thrive whereas the smaller pools of players hang by a thread. This proposal makes the GAA more commercially viable but it'll be the elite counties who survive.

The big fish swim in the big pond while the small fish drown with the odd exclusion. Success stories like recent semi-finalists Fermanagh, Wexford and Tipperary will occasionally bring their head above water but teams will commence by questioning, 'Can we get to the last eight? If we can't, will we bother?'

For the majority the dreams of a last-eight place are dim but by cherry-picking the top eight teams for special treatment, that dream is unlikely to become a reality.

It's the equivalent of a Premier League team making the European places; it affords them the opportunity to grow and expand and without it you fall further behind.

And what of clubs and the club player? Qualification for the latter stages delays club championships even further with clubs left more disillusioned after helping to develop such talents and not having them available to them.

Access will be more limited than before given the exhausting nature of the last eight with August essentially a write-off. Also, how will the tide of players leaving for America be stemmed when they have no meaningful games to prepare for?

To echo the words of GAA director-general Páraic Duffy, there is "no magic bullet" and "no easy solution" to the current structural quagmire but to feed the mouths of the rich further is not the answer.

The gap will become a chasm and unless that seismic problem is addressed, a clear division will be marked between all counties forever.

Irish Independent

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