Is it down to Covid’s capacity to change perspectives and prompt re-evaluations of previously held positions? Is it the result of more effective background persuasion?
Or could it simply be a case of ‘that was then, this is now’, with no further elaboration deemed necessary?
Whatever the explanation, the change of heart over how to counteract cynical fouling in hurling represents one of the quickest turnarounds in GAA history.
A year ago next weekend, Congress stated emphatically that hurling didn’t have a cynicism problem. A proposal from the playing rules committee, calling for hurling to be brought into line with football by introducing a black card ‘sin-bin’ sanction, was beaten on a 82-18pc majority.
Committee chairman David Hassan backed up the case with hard facts, including a study of 20 games in 2019 which showed that every second foul was deliberate.
It made no difference. The proposal got little support. A few delegates spoke against it, including GPA chairman Seamus Hickey, who said that of the 1,116 players who took part in a survey, 89pc were against
Fast forward a year and a tougher version of the proposal will come before Congress next Saturday. It wants hurling to come in line with football on the ‘sin-bin’ and, in both sports, the addition of a sanction which will see a team awarded a penalty if the referee deems a cynical foul to have prevented a goal-scoring opportunity.
That’s a significant change, especially in hurling which only a year ago was deemed by Congress to be largely free of cynicism.
Given the resounding endorsement of that viewpoint, you might think the latest proposal has no chance of success on Saturday.
In fact, if the views of county chairpersons translate into votes – which is highly probable – it will be carried by a solid margin.
A large majority of the chairpersons, canvassed for the Irish Independent’s extensive survey on various issues, supported aligning hurling with football on the sin-bin and the introduction of the penalty sanction.
Among them was Antrim chairman Ciarán McCavana. He spoke passionately against hurling’s anti-cynicism proposal last year, but when asked in the survey if he supported the latest measures he gave a succinct ‘yes’ answer, without elaborating on why he had changed his mind.
In fairness to him, he spoke last year when most others didn’t, instead waiting patiently and silently before voting down the proposal.
Most of the chairpersons who were at that Congress are still in situ, but, according to our survey, a majority have changed their minds.
Was 2020 so much more cynical than previous years?
Yes, there were some deliberate goal-saving fouls, which possibly changed the outcome of big games (Huw Lawlor on Niall Burke in the Kilkenny-Galway Leinster final; Adrian Tuohey on Seamus Callanan in the Galway-Tipperary All-Ireland quarter-final being top examples), but that type of defending has been going on for quite some time.
Of course, it should have been dealt with by a rule long before now, yet only a year ago an overwhelming majority were against change.
The argument that there’s never a wrong time to do the right thing is perfectly valid and the latest onslaught on cynicism is to be welcomed, but there’s another consideration too.
Is Congress best-placed to make rule changes?
If the leaders in counties can U-turn so quickly on an issue where the evidence remains pretty much the same, it suggests they are either slow-learners or weren’t concentrating first time.
Either way, it doesn’t exactly espouse confidence in the decision-making process.
The Irish Independent survey threw up some other challenges too, ones which incoming president Larry McCarthy should make a priority for his term in office.
The responses to whether Dublin should receive less of the financial cake pointed to uncertainty on the issue, with many chairpersons believing that there’s a need for a broader look at overall financing models as opposed to a narrow focus on the Capital.
That’s understandable in what is a complex matter.
There was quite a divergence of opinion on the best championship structures, while finance was cited as the main area of concern in a post-Covid world.
All of which means one thing: the GAA urgently needs the most fundamental analysis ever undertaken.
It’s 19 years since the last Strategic Review Committee reported, a long time by most standards and an utterly unsustainable gap by modern-day governance requirements.
Establishing a review group, packed with the the heaviest of policy hitters, with the brief of examining every aspect of GAA life should be a top priority.
The new president should announce plans to do so in his inaugural speech to Congress on Saturday.
It doesn’t compare in the prestige stakes with the All-Ireland football roll of honour, where Kerry (37) have a lead of seven over second-placed Dublin, but it will be a stone in Kingdom shoes that their dominance in the All-Star award table is under serious threat.
Indeed, if Dublin complete the All-Ireland seven-timer this year, they could overtake their great rivals.
Dublin’s nine gongs in the 2020 team took their total for 50 years to 139, six behind leaders Kerry, who received no award for the first time since 2012.
That Dublin would be close to Kerry now looked beyond them ten years ago when they trailed 123-80.
There has been a massive change since then, with Dublin winning 59 awards to Kerry’s 22.
Despite having won no All-Irelands in the All-Star era, Mayo are in third place, having picked up 50 awards, followed by Tyrone and Meath on 49 each.
Kilkenny lead the 50-year hurling honours list with 189 awards, 76 ahead of second-place Cork (113), with Tipperary in third place on 102, followed by Galway on 97.
Moving some counties to a different province to create four groups of eight for the football championship is among current proposals, but judging from the responses of county chairpersons in the Irish Independent survey it won’t get very far.
Designed to retain the provincials as the championship starting point, it would ensure fairness in terms of the number of games required to win the titles, while also streamlining fixtures.
The format would involve three Leinster and one Ulster county heading into Connacht or Munster, a switch most country chairpersons don’t favour.
They argued that it would be difficult to get four counties to move and, even if they did, it would undermine the traditional provincial system.
Oddly enough, there are no such qualms in hurling where Galway (since 2009), Antrim and Kerry (at various stages) have played in Leinster. So why the reticence to try it in football?
It may not be the perfect solution, but it’s certainly better than the current hopelessly lopsided format that’s in operation.