Wednesday 12 December 2018

Martin Breheny: Shifting blame an easy way to avoid taking responsibility

GAA heading for unnecessary angst unless lessons learned are absorbed by everybody

With capacity limited to 8,400 in Newbridge last Saturday, innovative Kildare supporters used alternative methods to catch a glimpse at the much-anticipated Round 3 qualifier against Mayo. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
With capacity limited to 8,400 in Newbridge last Saturday, innovative Kildare supporters used alternative methods to catch a glimpse at the much-anticipated Round 3 qualifier against Mayo. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It really is a time of great oddities in the country, highlighted, perhaps most of all, by the inexplicable contradiction of a water shortage in spring due to a short cold snap and a few months later because of a dry spell.

Now, if we can't get something as basic as the water supply right what hope is there on bigger issues? Bizarre circumstances abound everywhere, so it's hardly a shock that the country's largest sporting organisation should fall victim too.

Still, it is surprising that the latest outbreak should emerge over St Conleth's Park, Newbridge. The dear old stadium, situated right at the heart of the town, has a lot of charm in a 1960s way.

The pitch is good but, in all other respects, it's vying with Walsh Park, Waterford and Drogheda for the dubious prize of being the worst county ground in the country.

Yet, last week, it became a touchstone for defiance, with Kildare threatening to derail the entire football championship unless they were allowed to host the qualifier tie with Mayo.

That would have been the undoubted impact if Croke Park had not backed off on the decision to fix the game for Croke Park.

Kildare would have launched a formal challenge, probably through the DRA and maybe even to the Courts if the decision didn't go their way. That would have taken time and if the game weren't played last weekend, the Round 4 draw would have been postponed.

With games due on the next three weekends (and on five of the next six), even the loss of one would wreck the schedule, with disastrous consequences for the championship.

Driven by a determination to exercise their right (as per rule) to host last Saturday's game, Kildare were prepared to trigger that chaos and, judging by the level of public support they enjoyed inside and outside the county, there would have been few objections.

It was portrayed as a battle between 'town hall', as represented by Croke Park and the 'little man', even if they clearly aren't enemies.

The GAA's fixture-makers got it wrong by not honouring the rule that first-drawn teams in Round 3 enjoy home venue if they are of equal league status.

They may, of course, have been influenced by Kildare's more tolerant view of being denied home advantage in the Leinster Championship, where they haven't had a home game since 1995. Despite that, there has been no Lilywhite revolt at being the only county in the country not to have a 'home' provincial game in almost a quarter century.

The limited capacity (8,400) in Newbridge meant that most Kildare supporters could not attend last Saturday's game but that didn't seem to matter. 'Newbridge or Nowhere' became a slogan that got its way.

It's now being flagged as a launch pad for a war against how the GAA runs its affairs.

If you were to accept some of the more hysterical outbursts, you might believe that the Association is being run by people determined to destroy it. The culture of 'Anyone but Me' for apportioning blame when something goes wrong has reached ridiculous levels. Let's repeat it again - the fixture-makers were wrong to by-pass Newbridge. But are Kildare supporters, many of whom had to watch last Saturday's game on TV, asking why the county ground has been allowed to disintegrate into such a dilapidated state? It seems a fair question.

The lessons from the Newbridge affair are clear. If a county is entitled to a home venue, then it must go ahead, irrespective of the capacity. Now whether that rule makes sense is another matter but, for as long as it stands, it cannot be ignored. The Central Competitions Control Committee know that now so there won't be a repeat.

But here's a thing. CCCC are always an easy target. They were criticised last spring when it became necessary to juggle Allianz League fixtures because of the bad weather. So who decided to shoehorn the entire football and hurling programmes into a two-month period?

That was down to Central Council, where every county has a representative, yet CCCC had to take the flak when the elements dealt an unkind hand.

Introducing football's 'Super 8s' and bringing forward the All-Ireland finals, which have jammed the summer schedule so much that even losing one weekend could cause chaos, were decided by Congress, which has several representatives from each county.

Who selects Congress and Central Council delegates? Clubs, of course, so if they are unhappy with decisions, they know what to do.

Arguing that a small, powerful coterie is taking the GAA in a direction that the majority of members don't want is populism at its shallowest.

Even if it were the case, the answer is simple - take them on. Use the democratic system to challenge those at every level of power, always remembering that they were put there by GAA members, as opposed to outsiders with a cunning plan to destabilise the Association.

Lessons are being learned all the time but often remain unheeded. Let's go back to the leagues again. The ridiculously tight schedule didn't work this year, yet as far as we know, there are no plans to address it.

CCCC have no power to do so, yet will take the hits again next year if the weather disrupts the programme.

It's time for the grassroots to have their say alright but it would be a big help if they started in the first instance with giving more attention to who they put in power in their own counties.

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