The battle to limit disruption caused by inter-county games is not over yet
At one point during GAA Congress last weekend, director-general Paraic Duffy showed mild exasperation as the plight of the club player appeared to be falling on deaf ears. A few times he nipped in to speak before votes were taken, keen to emphasise the gravity of the situation, and even those interventions failed to sway delegates in sufficient numbers. The price to be paid - a tightening of the inter-county schedule - was deemed too high. If the GAA is cottoning on to the fact that club players are in need of better than this, then the measures needed will have to wait.
Duffy's personal appeals may, some feel, have had the opposite effect to what was desired and been seen instead as an unwarranted bid to influence the democratic process. That can be argued. Just as it can that these were the pleas of a man who has spent much time agonising over the issue of the inter-county constituency's detrimental impact on club life, knowing first-hand how the club player, far from being the lifeblood of the Association, has become a second-class citizen, frequently patronised and treated with contempt in the lamentable effort that passes for fixture programmes in many counties.
John Costello of Dublin spoke, with some experience, of the 'blitz-like' competitions that represent county championships now because there is no room for better, given the oppressive rule of county fixtures and related concerns. The Dublin football championship's concluding stages are cramped like battery fowl in a hurried effort to finish the competition before the provincial series begins. This in the county currently the centre-ground for the game nationwide.
County privilege, even more preposterously at minor and under 21 level, continues to govern with selfish disregard for the Association as a whole and even in counties where they have a good record in striving to run their local championships during the county season - such as Cork - there was opposition to proposals that would have tilted the balance a little more in favour of club interests.
Cork's Frank Murphy raised a point about provincial councils failing, as duty-bound, to sanction counties who are not providing an acceptable standard of domestic fixture schedules, with enough games at regular intervals. There has been no obvious appetite to follow that course of action but the GAA now has fixtures analysts at county and national level whose task will be to see that counties who fail in their duty to provide reasonable and reliable fixture programmes are held accountable.
Congress reform is often a slow burner and optimists will see the relatively high endorsement of motions on moving the All-Ireland final dates and drastically reducing the allowance for replays as a pointer to it only being a matter of time before those reforms are more universally accepted. The motion to have the All-Ireland finals brought forward by two weeks gained 60.8 per cent backing, six per cent shy of the two-thirds majority required.
"The current inter-county system runs for nine months and means it is virtually impossible to run meaningful games for club players, which we are told account for 98 per cent of the playing population," said Costello.
Slightly fewer, 57.5 per cent, favoured confining replays to All-Ireland finals and provincial finals only, and replacing replays in the majority of cases with extra-time. Opinion differed on the disruption inter-county replays cause but while Frank Murphy argued that it is relatively little if counties are good planners, GAA president Aogan Ó Fearghail, speaking a few days ago, and others, didn't agree. Ó Fearghail supported the view that one inter-county replay creates substantial disruption to local fixtures. Finance and a potential loss of home games in the championship, the latter cited as a concern by Down, were put forward as reasons not to back the measure at Congress.
In spite of the outcomes, the GAA president says the issue remains central to his agenda and the GAA's. "There is an acceptance that this needs to happen. I certainly feel there is a lot more seriousness now among GAA administrators that this is the main game. The inter-county game is fine; it doesn't need saving."
But counties are still allowing county team managements too much power. And power, invariably, corrupts.
Sunday Indo Sport