Congress consensus worrying as there were other solutions to fixtures’ crux
Other than where the evidence is so overwhelming as to be unquestionable, I regard consensus with suspicion.
But if everyone is on the same side, is it not always right? No actually. It’s all too easy to fall in line with the populist vibe of the time, where the loudest and most persuasive voices exert a disproportionate influence.
There have been some good examples in the GAA over the years, including how a scaremongering, conservative rump delayed the opening of Croke Park to other sports for well over a decade longer than should have been the case.
Eventually, the opinion tide turned, thanks to the persistence of those who believed passionately that it was the correct thing to do. Still, right up to the end of the issue at 2005 Congress,
the arguments between the main protagonists raged on.
It was good for both sides, ensuring that they stayed sharp and focused. That, in turn, helped the undecideds to make up their minds.
At least in that case the debate was informed by humans, unlike the GAA’s split-season plan which had a world-wide disease as a major promoter.
Last Saturday’s Congress decision might even be called the ‘Covid
Covenant’, since the pandemic played such a big part in its introduction.
From next year on, the All-Ireland championships will be finished as early as July 18. Basically, inter-county (and limited club action) will fill the first half of the season, followed by exclusive club activity from there on.
It’s a radical departure, certainly by comparison with only a few years ago when the All-Ireland senior finals were played on the first and third Sundays in September.
There was a good reason for that. Stretching the championships out to September was an important promotional mechanism for the GAA, something that has been ignored in the rush to have an earlier finish.
Most sports seek to maximise exposure, but the GAA have now decided that’s no longer necessary. Instead, they will squeeze more showpiece games into a shorter time-frame and depart the main stage in July, just as soccer and rugby are warming up for their lengthy seasons.
So what did Congress have to say about that? Not a word. But then it had nothing whatsoever to say about the overall split-season plan.
This is one of the biggest shifts in the GAA for a long time, but the main decision-making body waved it through without comment.
Not even one delegate had a query or observation. How odd is that? Was there anybody who had misgivings about introducing a calendar which would have been zapped into oblivion not so long ago?
Apparently not. Cosy consensus had wrapped everyone in its warm embrace and they were happy to snooze on. First mooted a few years ago, the split-season idea was still a long way from being accepted until Covid’s mischievous intervention.
The strange new circumstances forced the separation of club and county action and, if Congress is to be believed, was so successful that it should be made permanent.
Is it really that simple? The split-season idea arose from the failure to streamline fixtures so that clubs got a better deal in terms of game frequency, calendar certainty and the availability of inter-county players. Understandably, club players grew disillusioned, leading to the emergence of the CPA. Doing nothing was not an option.
Fixing the problem without bringing the All-Ireland finals forward to July would have involved a number of changes, including cutting the amount of inter-county training, allowing players to play with the their clubs when not with the county team, reducing the power of team managers and adjusting the All-Ireland format.
All were achievable if the will was there. Instead, the split-season option was accepted by Congress, without any discussion on the negative side of the changes.
Here’s the key question. If the split-season solution is now so blindingly obvious that Congress hadn’t a single doubt, why wasn’t it apparent in the past?
It’s as if Covid delivered a light-bulb experience, where a previously intractable problem didn’t look so serious after all. The truth is different.
In fact, Congress took the easy way out with a decision which will ultimately damage the GAA. It’s hardly surprising, since it’s the same Congress which passed a motion on cynical play that it rejected by a four-to-one majority a year earlier.
Jack Chambers, Minister of State for Sport, was in high spirits yesterday as he enthused about how the Government would support a bid for Ireland to be involved in a bid to host the 2030 soccer World Cup.
Politicians love this sort of stuff, believing it portrays then as imaginative when, in fact, it often makes them sound like spoofers.
Jack told us all about the ‘major events division’ in his department, which deal in this type of thing. Sounds like jobs for the boys and girls but, hey, it had a €6 million budget last year, so happy days.
The bid would, of course, require support from the GAA for the use of some grounds, similar to the 2023 Rugby World Cup bid, but he had no doubt that would be forthcoming.
So when it comes to making bids for major soccer and rugby events, it can only happen with GAA backing. They are clearly sufficiently elite at that level, but not when it comes to the Government designating which sports can operate during Covid. In other words, they are elite when it suits.
While Congress was tongue-tied on the split-season proposal, it had plenty to say about introducing a sin-bin in hurling and increasing the punishment for a cynical foul (both codes) by awarding a penalty if it occurs inside the 20-metre line and is adjudged to have denied a goal-scoring opportunity.
The debate went on for nearly an hour before being passed by a 61-39pc majority, just enough to see it introduced on an experimental basis for this year’s championships.
It’s worth a trial, but will only work if referees implement it as intended. That could be a bigger problem in hurling than football. Hurling referees have become a law unto themselves over the years, consistently failing to apply the rules on illegal hand-passing and over-carrying. What’s more, they got away with it.
Will they now do the same with the cynical foul sanction on the grounds that it’s difficult to adjudicate on? Don’t be surprised if that happens.