Tomás Ó Sé: I hate the GAA Congress and I'm sick of the moaning
I spent last weekend revisiting all the reasons why I've always hated the GAA Congress.
I hate so much what it communicates.
I hate the almost uniform age profile of those attending. I hate that, most of the time, it looks like a wax museum. I hate the self-satisfied air. I hate that it takes a two-thirds majority to make any decision. I hate that I've never felt it represented me or pretty much anyone I know.
I hate that disconnect, the sense of a parallel world.
But this week, most of all, I hate the noise that Congress has generated. I hate the howl of complaints. I hate the bulls**t of social media; the pulpit-thumping by people with too much time on their hands. I hate that an honest effort to change has been hijacked as some kind of grand sell-out of the playing community.
Donald Trump would have struggled to get a word in this week, so many had to have their say on the implications of a championship 'Super Eight'.
And, Lord Jesus, I'm sick of the moaning.
We spend decades advocating the need for change then, when change comes, we jump straight down the throats of those behind it. Last weekend's decision is just a start, that's all. Nobody's being disregarded here. Nobody's being written out of anything. It's just a first stab at making things better. Give it a chance.
See how it goes.
Listen, I agree that club players don't have a strong enough voice in how the GAA conducts its business. I've always felt that. But, bottom line, they've got to pressure their own club delegates more to get their voices heard at county board level. I know what it's like as a player. In my entire life, I've never once been asked my opinion before any decision taken at Congress.
You feel your job is on the field and that committee stuff is almost for a different breed. That the boys who go to county conventions and Congress are just wired another way. You reckon they understand the workings of the GAA better than we do and it's maybe best just to leave them at it. And you know what? By and large, you're right.
But I can detect a lot of anger among players and this could be a watershed moment.
They feel they should have more of a say and, maybe for the first time, I now believe they're seriously analysing how to achieve that. There's a big philosophical gulf between players and administrators and bridging that gulf should be a priority of both sides.
Let me be clear on one thing. I don't like the disrespectful terms 'suits' or 'dinosaurs' being used over the last week in relation to those who made the 'Super Eight' decision. But I do suspect a lot of them aren't that in touch with those who play the games.
That said, these proposals were first published last August and have since gone before a couple of Central Council meetings. As Martin Breheny wrote in these pages during the week, the GPA raised no objections at those meetings, remaining publicly silent on the subject until last week. Why? I know they've spoken of conducting a detailed survey of their members, but should they not have articulated their position long before delegates were in the hall?
It's clear that players feel that they were pushed aside last weekend. But if they were, it's only because they weren't properly prepared.
Tyrone full-back Ronan McNamee more or less said as much this week, suggesting that the GPA should have initiated more discussion on it beforehand. He described the players getting an email and a text that read like "an essay or a dissertation."
Well, I can tell you straight up that reading essays when you're working flat out in the gym and on the field, not to mention doing your daily job, is the last thing any player will have an appetite to do.
I will always consider myself a players' man. And, by the way, I have good time for the GPA.
I've had reason to seek their guidance on a number of occasions and they always put me in the right direction. Maybe some will say that that's just more evidence of elitism, that I only got that help because I was a well-known county man who they knew.
I get that argument too. But you can only take people as you find them. And my personal experience of the GPA is of a genuine body.
But their eye was off the ball last weekend and I think it's time for county players to stop moaning now at the consequences. If you're not properly organised, you'll have your work cut out challenging the GAA. The GPA says 70pc voted against the new structure. But 70pc of what?
McNamee tells us Tyrone didn't have any meeting and that he didn't vote. So who did?
For what it's worth, I think the changes could be good for the game. I heard Pat Spillane giving out about rugby and soccer getting a free run through September now but, for crying out loud, club players are going to America in the summer because there's nothing to keep them here. This change addresses that to a point at least. Let's give it a go.
The argument about a system just perpetuating the haves and have-nots will always be there. I honestly don't believe there's any tweaking to the calendar that can solve that. If self-help doesn't work for the smaller counties, I'm not sure anything else will.
I'm not trying to be hard on them. I mean I won an All-Ireland with Kerry through the back door and I know full well how hard that would have been to swallow for anyone who'd been sold the back-door rule on the basis of it helping the weak. It didn't. It never will.
Actually, I don't think anything we do will change the fact that the All-Ireland will continue to be between the Dublins, Kerrys, Mayos, Tyrones and Donegals until another group of players drags themselves up to that level.
A few years ago, Seán Kelly proposed a two-tier championship, something that I fully agree with. By all means, incentivise that lower tier with the possibility of an All-Ireland quarter-final place. But stop looking at it as a 'B' tournament and stop thinking you're being shat upon by that use of the letter 'B'. You're not. People are trying to give you meaningful competition.
It's up to you what you then do with it.
'Super Eight' won't be perfect. You will get the odd dead rubber, but imagine the Dubs having to go to Castlebar with something to play for? Or Kerry going up to Healy Park? Jesus, you'd have an unbelievable atmosphere at those games.
I mean I didn't agree with the 2014 Kerry v Mayo replay being taken out of Croke to facilitate an American football game, but that day in Limerick was electric. I remember being down in the Gaelic Grounds, thinking, 'We should have more of these...'
If I'm honest, my personal preference would be a complete revamp of the championship. But I know that's not going to happen. Páraic Duffy is trying to do the best he can in the circumstances and you can read his frustration when people seem programmed to object at every turn.
It's clear to me that he's 100pc genuine in trying to improve the lot of club players. Put it this way, if this was a money thing for the GAA, would they be doing away with replays?
Listen, Duffy must be close to pulling his hair out with some of the cack he's having to hear.
No question, there's plenty more that needs to be done. I mean, if Kerry don't make the National League final, they've 10 weeks to their first championship game this year. That's a joke. Why does everything take so long? If you've seven games in the league, why not run those seven games off in seven weeks and open a window for club games before the championship begins?
Why do provincial championships have to take so long to run off? That's the biggest farce.
Look, the club player deserves a better cut off it than he's getting, but the CPA aren't officially recognised and didn't have a voice at Congress. It wasn't their place to speak there and, so, there's no point in taking that personally.
They're a movement that will grow. They'll become more powerful. But they've got to be patient too.
Talking of strike action? Ah Jesus, will you stop.
I know full well how frustrating things can be, but are you telling me that with the All-Irelands being brought forward a month and the abolition of replays, that won't free up four or five extra weekends for the club?
As for the GPA, I suspect their noses are still out of joint over how little air-time their own proposals got previously from the GAA, but they need to keep things in perspective here. What happened last weekend wasn't any type of scandal and, just because a few social media warriors are almost goading you into some kind of subversive response, doesn't make it one.
Relax. Give this a chance. It mightn't be perfect, but it's a start.