Off the Ball: Club players up in arms - and it's about time too
About bloody time, is the broad consensus. At last, the interests of GAA club players look set to be represented in an official capacity; former Monaghan selector Declan Brennan has unveiled plans to establish a Club Players Association. It was something former All-Ireland winner Conor Deegan talked about earlier this year. The only surprise is that it has taken so long.
Wonderful as it is, the GAA is full of nonsensical and outdated traditions and for years the club player has suffered more than most. We know the story. The top 0.5pc of players dictate the schedule for the 99.5pc. More than ever, county managers have the power to impose blanket bans on club action throughout the season. And, frankly, who would blame them?
One only has to read Jim McGuinness' autobiography to appreciate the carnage caused by club matches during Donegal's 2013 summer. Players were either injured or knackered. One can appreciate the reluctance of county managers to hand over their prized assets to various clubs with a completely different training model. The net result is disastrous for the club player. Months of training sessions and no games followed by too many games, quite often in the winter sludge. An unexpected championship exit for the county team leads to the cancellation of holidays and needless stress on families.
Deegan gave me an example of the situation in his native Down this year. His club Downpatrick played six league games in just over two weeks in April. Over the following two months, they had one game. Following Down's exit from the championship, the annual rush to cram in league and club championship fixtures kicked off.
Loughinisland, a small parish, were asked to play five games in 10 days. So much for player welfare. In the end they decided to give up the points for one of the games, which had a big bearing on who won the league.
So to put it bluntly, it's a mess. New Meath boss Andy McEntee told us: "I'm kind of laughing at the proposals to have a pool stage at the latter end of the All-Ireland series. That's just a money racket, that's all that is. That means more games for county players and drag it out even further and less of a window for the club player."
Of course no solution is straightforward. This process will require a multi-faceted approach incorporating the county scene, the club scene, hurling counties, football counties and dual counties. There will be concessions and compromises on all sides. But something has to give. Brennan has received 10,000 messages of support. The 99.5pc will be an immediately powerful voice. We have reached the point of critical mass.