Martin Breheny: 'There are two corrupting influences in the GAA that must come to an end once and for all'
IT might not be immediately obvious, but Croke Park is, apparently, a sinister place.
Yes, it looks fantastic on big days, while its imposing presence dominates the Dublin 3 skyline for the rest of the time, standing as a proud monument to the GAA’s 136-year success story.
All very impressive, but what’s going on in offices on the sixth floor? This is the administrative hub where, if you are to believe the ever-growing depiction of how the organisation runs, dark forces are engaged in a deliberate plot to undermine clubs, colleges and just about every other activity except inter-county.
Didn’t they fix the Sigerson Cup for January? Haven’t they jammed February-March and the entire summer with so much inter-county action that club programmes are being seriously vandalised? Aren’t they partnering up with the sly AFL foxes, allowing them to pluck our top-laying hens?
Apparently, if the International Rules game didn’t exist, the AFL would know nothing about our footballers who, in turn, wouldn’t have heard about Australia until the recent bushfire outbreak.
Anyway, back to Croke Park’s treachery. “We were short six inter-county players today thanks to Croke Park,” said UCC manager, Billy Morgan at the weekend.
So why was the Sigerson brought forward to January? It wasn’t a Croke Park whim, but rather a reaction to county and college players and managers complaining of fixture overload in February, by which time the Allianz Leagues are on full throttle.
They are squeezed into a ridiculously short period (eight weeks for hurling, nine for football), time scales that have been disrupted by bad weather in each of the last two years. Why are they packed so tightly? Because clubs complained that when the Leagues extended to late April/early May, they saw little action until after county teams were knocked out of the championship.
Hence April’s designation as an inter-county-free month. In order to make more room available to clubs, the All-Ireland inter-county finals were brought forward by two weeks (both hurling and football will be completed by the end of August this year). It’s a serious loss from a promotional viewpoint, but deemed worthwhile to help clubs. Despite all the fixture-tweaking, the complaints market is thriving with Croke Park in the line of fire for most of the gripes. They are easy targets, but it ignores one reality since they are responding to what they have been told to do.
And who does the telling? Central Council? And who tells them? It should be county boards since all 32 are represented. And who directs CC delegates? It should be clubs since they decide at county conventions who represents them.
Here’s the question – if the system is so democratic, why so little cohesion in the decision-making processes and so much anger directed towards those whose job it is to implement what has been agreed?
Enter weakness and hypocrisy, the two most corrupting influences in GAA administration and certainly the cause of many difficulties.
Let’s start with county boards. They have a responsibility to do what’s best for clubs, yet the majority of them will allow county managers to disrupt local programmes. Even April isn’t sacrosanct, with county training impinging on club action.
County managers are judged on how the team performs so they can argue that’s where their responsibility rests. True, but there have been several examples of college and county managers tugging for players’ loyalty at the same time.
I know one case where a county player was told to travel a long distance over the Christmas holidays to attend a college training session, despite being injured. He was told that his presence would show real leadership. Meanwhile, his county manager wanted him back home.
The Club Players Association have complained about club players being frustrated with their lack of action in summer. It’s undoubtedly an issue, but it’s also a fact that many clubs don’t want championship games in summer because some players have gone overseas for a few months. Also, if clubs feel so strongly about how their county is being run, they have the answer – throw out the executive at convention time.
It rarely happens, no more than county executives stand up to managers. The winter training ban has been ignored, while several counties broke the regulations on overseas training camps in spring. Some, led by Dublin and Wexford, insulted our intelligence with their comical explanations.
The winter ban was designed to give players a break, yet the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) remained silent when their members were told to report for training. The GPA could have ended it overnight. Why didn’t they?
The dark arts or passing blame are finely-tuned in the GAA. It’s never down to me, always you, someone else and definitely Croke Park. Amid all the hypocrisy and weakness, HQ is an easy target, but it’s also the wrong one. Don’t expect any solutions until the rest of the organisation acknowledges that.