Self-regulation for hurling elite is a non-starter
Too much control for top counties would be a recipe for disaster, says John Greene
Over the last decade we have been extremely fortunate to witness what for most of us is probably the best hurling team we will ever see in our lifetime. And we have watched as occasionally a team came from the pack to go toe to toe with this remarkable Kilkenny side.
It is doubtful we will see their like again. It is doubtful either that we have seen the last of this team. Of course we know it is nearing its end, but none of us will be in the least bit surprised if we see one more kick from Cody, Shefflin and Co in 2014.
And as the year draws to a close, we can reflect too on an incredible season for hurling, when both league and championship were top-drawer affairs.
Yet hurling, it seems, is in crisis. Wexford manager Liam Dunne is the latest in a line of high-profile hurling men to insist that the game is being destroyed by people who apparently know nothing about it.
"Why should counties where football dominates have a say in how to run Division 1 of the hurling league?" asked Dunne recently. "It doesn't concern them, yet they have the same say as the hurling counties. That's not right. Fifteen counties compete for the hurling championship, so surely they should be allowed to decide the best way to run off Division 1 of the league."
Dunne's view is one that is widely held in the stronger hurling counties. If we have learned anything in this country in the last five years, it is that self-regulation does not work. How much of this country's current predicament could have been avoided if the concepts of 'self-regulation' and 'light-touch regulation' were not so embedded in our financial and political culture.
And yet now, more than ever, hurling is looking to rid itself of all-comers and look after its own house. True, Dunne's comments came on the back of the botched attempt to tinker with the structures of the National Hurling League. Having clearly said earlier in the year that the league would remain unchanged, a restructure was pulled out of the hat by the GAA, and it conveniently restored relegated Cork to the top flight. The suspicion remains that Cork had somehow engineered the change and, if so, take that as Exhibit A in the case against a small number of counties being allowed to control the game.
It would be nice to think that in eventually deciding to leave the league as it was, common sense had prevailed, but instead, the right solution was stumbled upon as much as anything else. This, however, should not be taken as a reason to hand over control of the league to a select group of counties. Many are already powerful in their own right within the GAA hierarchy. These are counties well used to getting their own way, and certainly well-versed in the workings of the GAA committee room.
This idea that the association is run by some sort of football Taliban just does not stand up. For a start, four of the last five GAA presidents come from a strong hurling background: Liam O'Neill, Christy Cooney, Nickey Brennan and Joe McDonagh (the latter two won All-Ireland senior hurling medals).
Earlier in the year, when the black card and other recommendations brought forward by the Football Review Committee came before Congress in a widely-lauded attempt to remove cynicism from Gaelic football, there were more howls of derision as respected hurling figures warned the GAA not to go down the same road in the small ball game.
This is despite the fact that it has been obvious for some time that there are issues around refereeing and, yes, cynicism in the game. Just as in football. It is possible to have a great hurling season like the one just finished but to still acknowledge that things could be improved – the two are not mutually exclusive.
It has been suggested that the GAA hierarchy avoided talking about changes to hurling at the time of the FRC Congress vote because to do so would have turned the stronger hurling counties against the proposals. If that is so, what good could come of letting these same counties police themselves?
This of course does not mean that top-tier counties should not feel aggrieved at some of the decisions taken at times in relation to the game, especially the tinkering with the league in recent years. But the same also applies in football.
The GAA, for better or worse, is a collective. Everybody should have a say, and generally speaking, everybody does have a say. The GAA operates a rather cumbersome democracy, but it is a democracy nonetheless, and one which ordinarily works well. Club members put a committee in place to run their club, clubs put people in place to run the county board, and county boards put people in place to run the provinces and the national scene. From the bottom up, members put people into positions to make decisions which are in the best interests of the association, and its aims and pursuits.
That is how it should be, for both football and hurling. There is no case to be made, at any level, for the strong hurling counties taking over.