Martin Breheny: GPA needs fresh ideas to launch a new era
If the players' group is so unhappy with the new SFC format, they should devise their own
Does it have to be like this? The All-Ireland football championships undergo a relatively minor tweak and recriminations flood across the GAA landscape, levels rising as they go.
According to new Gaelic Players Association CEO Dermot Earley, Saturday's Congress decision to replace the quarter-finals with a 'round robin' series is a 'slap in the face for players'.
Now the GPA will consult its membership before deciding on a course of action. The newly-formed Club Players Association is refraining from comment for the time being, but since they vehemently opposed the plan, it's safe to assume that their eventual response will be withering.
GAA director-general Páraic Duffy regrets the 'angry' nature of the debate in recent weeks and wants Saturday's decision to be accepted for the democratic landslide (76-24 per cent majority) it was.
There's no guarantee that will be the case. What happens if the GPA's consultation with the players ends up with a threat to boycott the new system? Okay, so it's not due for implementation until summer 2018 but who's to say that GPA anger won't remain inflamed until then?
Earley mentioned lack of consultation with players several times after Saturday's vote, a charge denied by Duffy, who pointed out that the proposal was on the agenda since last August.
consultation And so it was. But here's where the consultation wavelengths part. Duffy's band works off the basis that the decision-making process works through county boards, made up of clubs where players are members. So if players want to make their case on major issues, they can do it through that route.
The GPA's take on consultation is that, in instances like this, it should take place directly with them.
That brings us to a central question - who runs the GAA? Since the GPA says that 70 per cent of players voted against the 'round robin' proposal, it's highly unlikely that any amount of consultation would persuade them to support it.
In that case, consultation equals veto, which is hardly an appropriate way to do business.
Effectively, it means that competition structures must be backed by players - otherwise they cannot be implemented. It's very doubtful if any sporting organisation operates under that system so why should the GAA work off such an unacceptable basis?
For what it's worth, I believe the GPA were right to oppose the 'round robin' proposal, which does nothing to address the fundamental problem with the championship, which is inequality. I also think bringing forward the All-Ireland finals to August is ill-advised from a promotional viewpoint. However, the GPA backed that one.
But surely the bigger issue here is that if mechanisms are in place to govern an organisation, they have to be accepted, even if they reach decisions you don't particularly like. It's called democracy.
The GPA put forward a plan for a revamped All-Ireland football championship almost two years ago, which involved a full-blown 'round robin' for all 32 counties after the provincial championships had been completed. It had some merits but was shot down by Central Council on the grounds that it featured too many games.
The GPA has produced no new plan since then, but shot down one (a 'B' championship for Division 4 counties) by promising a boycott and are now very annoyed that a second proposal has been accepted.
In effect, they are saying: Central Council zapped our idea and we don't like what they have devised since then. Surely then, the answer is for the GPA to come up with a new plan, which have the backing of the membership. Central Council could hardly reject them all.
Players accept that aspects of the championship structure are unsatisfactory, so why leave it to the GAA administration to sort out?
The GPA is now a heavily-resourced body (mostly from central GAA coffers), well capable of coming up with fresh ideas.
Presumably consultation with their membership would produce some level of consensus as to what the players wanted so why not get on with it?
In fairness to Earley, he is only in the CEO position for a short time and is entitled to some time make his imprint.
How he handles this particular issue is very important, not just to the GPA but to the wider GAA.
As for the public perception, it's easy to side with the players and easier still to dub the administrators as out-of-touch 'suits'. It's never that simple of course. Ultimately, a system has to be in place which enables an organisation to function properly which, in the GAA's case, has Congress at its apex.
You might think from some of the hysterical reaction to Saturday's decision that a minority had inflicted a severe form of tyranny on the majority.
Not so. And it doesn't matter how often that impression is repeated, it won't make it true.
The fact is that if the players want to change the championship they can start the process straight away. It's a better option than knocking Saturday's decision.