Friday 20 September 2019

Martin Breheny: 'Training ban inconsistency shows up rules hypocrisy'

Counties appear to think that regulations they helped form don't apply to them

The rules around inter-county training camps have left everyone in the dark. Photo: David Maher/SPORTSFILE
The rules around inter-county training camps have left everyone in the dark. Photo: David Maher/SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

First, you make a rule but don't attach a sanction for breaches. It proves spectacularly useless so it's adjusted to include a form of punishment.

The rule preventing inter-county squads from engaging in weekend (or longer) training camps except in the ten days before a championship game carried no sanction for violations until September last year when Special Congress voted overwhelmingly to tidy it up.

The agreed punishment was the loss of home advantage for one Allianz League game in the following season.

It was more a slap on the wrist than an iron fist sanction, but at least it gave the rule some credibility. Counties decided it was a good idea, voted it into the rule book and moved on.

Seven months later, 17 of them faced investigation for alleged breaches, with ten understood to have admitted to engaging in weekend camps and/or playing challenge games outside the permitted period.

The Irish Independent reported that on May 31 last, at which stage it was assumed that the sanctions would be announced soon after.

High-profile overseas jaunts by Armagh and Dublin footballers and Wexford hurlers became public knowledge and there was lots of local activity too, with counties decamping to various locations around the country.

The weeks passed without news of any action being taken. The provisional 2019 league fixtures were circulated in early September without reference to any county losing a home fixture for breaking the training ban.

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That's because no decision had been taken at the time. Indeed, it wasn't until last week - more than six months after the alleged violations occurred - that it emerged four teams, Armagh (football), Laois (football), Waterford (hurling) and Wexford (hurling), would have their first 'home' league game next year moved to a neutral venue.

Why did it take so long? And why were those four the only ones to be sanctioned?

Wexford hurlers insisted that their trip to Portugal wasn't for training purposes, but rather a case of, as joint-captain Lee Chin put it, "lads going off together to have a bit of fun in each other's company".

His account was treated with understandable scepticism. Wexford were due to begin their Leinster Championship programme a few weeks later so for some odd reason the squad felt that the best way to prepare was to forget about training and head for the sun. Right!

Dublin footballers opted for a more highbrow explanation for their trip to France and Belgium.

Apparently, they felt that their focus for the All-Ireland four-in-a-row bid would be sharpened by heading for First World War battlefields, visiting memorials, laying wreaths and reflecting wistfully on the significance of it all.

Training? Of course not. Please don't be so crass as to even mention it.

Obviously, the GAA Management sub-committee, which investigated all the alleged breaches, believed Dublin's tales of historical enlightenment, but not Wexford's 'lads having fun together' explanation (Though, they subsequently escaped sanction).

Armagh, Laois, Waterford and Wexford are now at a loss to understand why they are being sanctioned while Dublin, and indeed several others, escaped. In fairness, they have a strong case. And since investigating committees don't outline the rationale behind their decisions an information vacuum arises.

Did the punished four admit too much or did all the others dance around what is admittedly a vague rule. It states that inter-county squads "shall not be permitted to go on training weekends or training or longer duration" in the prohibited period.

Does that mean that they can go on one training weekend? That's not what the rule envisaged but the wording states 'weekends', which leaves room for ambiguity. And what's a training weekend anyway?

Does it have to involve work with the ball or indeed any physical activity? What's a weekend? Is is okay if a squad travels on Thursday and returns on Saturday night?

Of course there should be no need for such hair-splitting. The ban was approved by counties in order to make more time available for club action, so you might expect that the spirit, rather than the precise wording, of the rule would be upheld.

You would also be wrong. But then, this isn't the first rule to be enthusiastically endorsed by county delegates at Congress, only to be ignored once they returned home.

It happened with the ban on autumn starts to inter-county training, a policy introduced to give players a decent break.

And it happened (still does) repeatedly with attempts to legislate for illegal payments to managers. That has been going on for nearly 30 years, facilitated by the duplicity of those who have a responsibility to uphold the rules they helped to make.

In effect, the lawmakers become the law-breakers in a clear example of hypocrisy at its most glaring.

And guess what? There's no solution because many county boards appear to regard rules as something for others to uphold.

Paddy Clarke: a coach with style, vision and class

You never knew when an email would pop in from Paddy Clarke, containing some statistical gem.

It usually involved his beloved Louth but he often unearthed nuggets from other counties too. If any explanation were needed, the email would be followed with a phone call and a long conversation about the sporting affairs of the day.

One of the most innovative coaches in football, his work with Louth, several clubs in different counties and the Irish International Rules team under Brian McEniff's management was highly regarded everywhere.

Paddy wore his expertise lightly, never pushing himself to the centre and always maintaining a humorous, self-deprecating attitude which made him immensely popular.

His death last weekend brought great sadness across the sporting landscape.

May he rest in peace.

Can O'Donovan's call spark action on throwing problem?

Talk to former Tipperary full-back Conor O'Donovan about the amount of illegal handpassing in hurling and you'll sense his deep frustration.

He has a collection of video clips from this year, showing the illegality in its most brazen form and, as he told us here last week, he could have compiled dozens more.

So why is it not being addressed? Referees say they are as vigilant as possible but since they are mostly behind the play, it's difficult to judge if the pass is valid. And if they can't be sure, the benefit of the doubt goes to the player.

That's being exploited on a massive scale and, as O'Donovan pointed out, is taking away from the game.

He even has a suggestion on how to fix the problem.

"If you have the ball in the left hand, you should have to palm it with the right hand and vice versa. That makes it easy for referees and would cut out the throwing. Using the changeover grip is a very basic skill," he said.

Anyone listening in the authority room? Or are they all happy to live with the throwing epidemic?

Irish Independent

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