Monday 19 March 2018

Joe Brolly: 'Spineless' Armagh board know what I said is true

Paul Grimley has called on RTE to reprimand Joe Brolly for his conduct
Paul Grimley has called on RTE to reprimand Joe Brolly for his conduct

Joe Brolly

The hysterical reaction from a few people to the discussion on Armagh in the RTE studio last Sunday is a smokescreen. Kieran McGeeney’s managerial performance is a matter of public record. As is the serious ill health of the county game and the damage it is wreaking on the clubs.

“Poisonous and personal,” said Paul Grimley, before accusing me of using my kidney donation and charity work as a defence against criticism. The man is an irony-free zone. There was nothing either poisonous or personal about what I said. Now the Armagh County Board has made a complaint to RTE. Yet when they were then asked to confirm if they had in fact made a complaint, they refused to confirm or deny it. Spineless isn’t the word.

I have offered to debate these fundamental issues on live TV with a member of the Armagh board. Let them come on TV and explain why their county players don’t play club football. Let them explain what the relationship is between manager and board. Let them detail their fundraising initiatives. Let them detail their expenditure. What are the arrangements around the manager’s expenses? I have a lot of other questions as well. The real problem the Armagh board have is that what I said is true and everyone knows it.

The massive positive reaction on social media from Armagh folk speaks for itself. My father says everyone has a role in life. He says that mine is to voice what everyone else is thinking but afraid to say. I don’t know about that but I know it’s high time a light was shone on what is going on with county boards and county teams.

The main reason we have gotten into this state is precisely because of the conspiracy of silence in the GAA. Already, Armagh people are starting to speak out. Shane McConville, an ex-county team-mate of Kieran McGeeney’s and current manager of the Maghery club, came out on Thursday in an interview with Declan Bogue. “A line has to be drawn here very quickly,” he said. “We are losing sight of what the GAA is about. As soon as the National League ended and before the championship started, there was supposed to be a period of five or six weeks where all county players were allowed to play for their clubs. This has not materialised. These are the bare facts. The county players have now been forbidden from playing for their clubs for the whole of June.” 

Gaels everywhere are starting to ask the same question: What is the point? What is the point of counties like Derry spending £250,000 a year on the county senior team? Of lads in nearly every county being segregated from their clubs? Of training seven days a week and going for training camps in expensive locations? Is it worth destroying the amateur ideals of the GAA for a few championship games a year? There are a few counties that have a more balanced approach. Not to the uber-professional training regimes, which are the same everywhere, but to the club/county balance.

Paraic Duffy, who sees precisely what the problems are and has laboured in vain to try to solve them, rang me on Monday morning to discuss what I’d been writing about and saying over the weekend. His own county — like Kilkenny hurlers — has a simple approach. The county manager has no say in whether boys play for their clubs or not.

In Monaghan, there are 18 league games. County players play 14 of them. The other four are starred, with everyone knowing in advance they will be played without the county men. In Monaghan, they have already played seven league games. The county players have played every one of those. On Tuesday night last, they had their first starred game of the season. No one objects to the county men missing a club game four days before their Ulster championship match today. The result is a healthier balance, where players can enjoy playing with their clubs, which means they continue to give the club their first loyalty. It gives them variety and a break from the grind of county training. It keeps them fresh. It’s a bit like parole.

In contrast, you look at Armagh and you see a depressed looking, dysfunctional group. Tetchy, indisciplined and mentally tired, which helps to explain why Cavan got so many easy scores last Sunday.

For me, the GAA is intensely personal. In contrast to the growing number of managers and hangers-on for whom it is becoming more like a business.

I await the Armagh chairman’s response to my invitation.

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