Sport Hurling

Sunday 17 December 2017

Driven to distraction by yet another U-turn

The GAA needs to redefine its methods of implementing change, says Damian Lawlor

IN 2005, as the GAA tried to implement its new sin bin scheme, two lowly-ranked hurling teams clashed in an early-season league fixture.

Approaching half-time one of the managers looked quizzically at his midfielder when he strolled past him, heading towards the sideline.

"Where the f**k are you going?" he enquired incredulously.

"I'm after getting a yellow card, I'm in the bin," came the reply.

"Sure it's only a yellow," the manager responded, "will you get back in there and hurl."

The GAA had spent weeks promoting its new disciplinary model, but despite this some managers still weren't up to speed on the new directive.

As the league progressed, chaos reigned on sidelines as games descended into a farce and the sin bin didn't last a month.

Three years later, a series of experimental tackling rules were introduced for the subsidiary provincial competitions in January and subsequent national leagues but they were obsolete by the time spring finished.

In 2009, the GAA was again forced into an embarrassing U-turn to scrap its new hurling relegation system. Antrim was one of four teams involved in the play-offs which would have seen one team ruled out of the senior hurling championship and replaced by Christy Ring winners Carlow.

But the Ulstermen maintained they couldn't be dropped because a Congress motion had guaranteed them a three-year stay in the Leinster SHC. The GAA pursued the relegation issue for a few weeks but were finally forced to render the whole concept null and void.

In 2000, puck-outs were used to start games (another excellent idea) but it was dispensed with. Likewise, the 2007 directive to tidy up the sidelines and not allow managers to walk up and down the line.

The managers combined in fury and the ruling was modified to suit them. The winter training ban is the latest initiative in line for modification. Idea after idea bounds along the production line to launch date and only then does everyone suddenly find fault with it.

On Tuesday night at Croke Park, Central Council will re-examine the format for the 2012 Allianz Hurling League despite the fact that the GAA has already approved a new format.

The Association spent months developing this template and sought plenty of feedback along the way -- but only when the new model hit the streets were objections declared. All counties had an opportunity to submit proposals or contribute to the discussion, but most didn't bother.

The new format scrapped the eight-strong Divisions 1 and 2 in favour of a 12-team Division 1, featuring six counties in 1A and six in 1B. But the top hurling counties then objected, wanting a return to the eight-strong divisions instead. Limerick led the charge -- after securing promotion to Division 1 they reckoned life in Division 1B would be no different to the terrain they'd just escaped. A boycott of the new league was even mooted.

That won't happen, of course. On Tuesday night, the GAA should achieve compromise when a new template is accepted, one that will involve six-strong Divisions 1A and 1B, with the addition of quarter and semi-finals. The new plan will ensure that counties like Limerick can get tougher games at the end of their campaign and be more battle-hardened for championship once summer arrives.

Interestingly, this was one of the proposals (from the Management Committee) on the table at the last Central Council meeting, but it was rejected. It should get through now.

"It is frustrating, there's no point in saying otherwise, but hopefully Tuesday night's meeting will clear it up for once and for all," says GAA operations manager Fergal McGill. "There would have been plenty of opportunities for counties to have a say in the new system all along but at the time the feedback and response was pretty anaemic, I can tell you.

"I think people who make these changes and suggest new ideas have the best interests of the game at heart. They listened to suggestions from all over the hurling world and yet it's only when the idea gets the go-ahead

that they encounter any serious resistance. The floor was wide open for discussion -- there was no strong directive that one scheme should get in above another. But this is what's happened; we just need to get it sorted now and put a definite system in place. There are two motions up for Tuesday night's meeting and hopefully the issue will be sorted."

If the compromised model gets the go-ahead, a venue like Semple Stadium will stage quarter-final and semi-final league double-headers in a bid to promote the game and expose hurling more and it will appease the eight counties objecting to the current status.

Limerick CEO Mike O'Riordan has been heavily involved in that saga for the past six weeks but with John Allen now over their senior hurlers, an early-season boycott is the last thing anyone there needs.

"In fairness, good people were involved in the last decision and good hurling people had a say, but we just felt that we'd been promised a return to Division 1 and all we were getting was another year in Division 2. That was no good for us -- we have tried to restructure Limerick hurling; we have an under 25 intermediate team and we're hitting back at underage. But progress needs to be constant and we felt there would be no progress in Division 1B. It was a kick in the teeth.

"There's a financial aspect too. We have lots of development plans and it takes a lot to upkeep the Gaelic Grounds. We estimate that we would lose up to €100,000 in gate, match programme and advertising revenue because the big teams would not be visiting Limerick in 2012. But we're also hopeful that the issue can be sorted on Tuesday."

It may well be, but Croke Park must re-examine its method of implementing changes. Currently, they appoint committees to suggest improvements for Central Council -- on which every county has a representative -- to consider but regularly they face scrapping the new model once the ground level revolts. Everyone is weary of the process.

"There is a (playing rules) panel compiled there now with Brian Cody and other guys on it and I think that's a good idea," said Kilkenny captain Brian Hogan.

"The thing of having guys up in HQ in suits coming up with this is a load of rubbish. The guys who should be making the decisions are the inter-county guys like Brian and other managers who know exactly what's required and what's best for the game."

The trouble is officials in Croke Park, who are trying to be fair to everyone, did open its doors when seeking a new league system and they did seek input from big names. There was still a backlash. What do you do?

On Tuesday night, around 45 Central Council delegates will attend this crucial meeting. Whichever motion gets through will need a two-thirds majority but the issue should be sorted for once and for all. And then peace will reign -- but for how long?

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