Duffy report needs Congress air time
It extends to 37 pages and presents a comprehensive review of the GAA as seen from the Director-General's chair, but it's unlikely much of Paraic Duffy's annual report will be discussed in any great detail at next month's Congress in Mullingar.
Similar reports have been on the Congress agenda down through the years, but have rarely received much attention. Instead, delegates largely ignore the DG's report, other than to thank him profusely for his efforts, when what Duffy -- and Liam Mulvihill before him -- really want is a reaction and a debate on some of the issues raised.
Indeed, it must be an extremely frustrating exercise to compile a detailed report only to find delegates flicking impatiently through the pages, stopping occasionally to toss in a brief comment. Last year, for instance, the debate on whether holes should be bored in Cups to prevent them being filled with alcohol at post-match celebrations lasted almost as long as the discussion on Duffy's 44-page report.
It's a waste of an opportunity to address real issues of broad interest and while the timing of the discussion on the annual report is switching from Friday night to Saturday morning this year, it remains to be seen if Congress shows any more interest in what is an opportunity to engage in a debate.
Here we outline some of Duffy's assessments on various aspects of GAA life and offer a reaction to the points he raises.
Duffy defends the current system whereby provincial football champions who lose All-Ireland quarter-finals don't get a second chance. He points out that, while all four provincial champions were beaten in the quarter-finals last year, it was the first time in 10 seasons that had happened and therefore "hardly constitutes convincing evidence of the need to overhaul the existing system."
Duffy also asserts that any change would have a negative impact on club championships.
Reaction: The issue is fairness not figures. A second chance is offered to all except the teams who have done best in their provinces (if they lose next time out).
A small tweak of the system would alleviate that, ensuring at the very least, that two provincial champions would reach the semi-finals every year. The changed format would require one extra weekend.
As for the argument that any change would further squeeze club fixtures, surely the long drawn-out provincial championships inflict more damage on the local scene.
For example, the six-match Connacht football championship will run over 11 weeks (May 1 to July 17) this year. And since Roscommon, who play New York on May 1, have a great chance of being in the final, how will the long wait between games impact on their club fixtures?
Duffy favours the restoration of semi-finals in Division 1, suggests that consideration should be given to allowing counties retain 'home' league gate receipts in order to encourage greater local marketing and opposes any move to return to pre-Christmas league games.
Reaction: He's right on the semi-finals. They should never have been abolished and will be reinstated next year. Allowing counties to retain 'home' league gates would also be a positive step, although it would also require special subventions from Croke Park for smaller and/or weaker counties who draw fewer spectators than their larger neighbours. As for pre-Christmas league games, they would work if counties ran their club programmes better. The argument that counties would field 'weakened' teams in pre-Christmas league games isn't really valid as there are plenty of experiments in spring too, so where's the difference? On the plus side, pre-Christmas games would ease fixtures pressures at this time of year.
Inter-County Closed Season
Duffy says the collective training ban was introduced as a player welfare issue "to ensure that inter-county players had an annual break from the mental and physical demands of inter-county training." He believes the ban should continue, but points out that it doesn't prevent players working on their own with programmes drawn up by team management. He also says that flouting the ban -- as has happened in many counties -- can't be allowed to continue.
Reaction: The reasoning behind the ban was sincerely based, but it ignores a number of points. All but four counties in both codes are out of the championship by August 1 so it's not as if they are being flogged on the training ground all year. It's also unfair to impose a training ban which expires on January 1 and then ask players to turn out in pre-season games the following week. As for flouting the ban, it will continue, because County Boards won't stand up to team managers. And if the ban doesn't apply to everybody, it shouldn't apply to anybody.
2010 Leinster Football
Duffy describes it as "the low point of our activities in 2010." He rejects claims that Croke Park failed to show the required leadership afterwards, pointing out that the rules didn't allow for a refixture unless both counties (Meath, Louth) agreed.
"It would appear that for some people the default position in times of difficulty is the facile one of blaming Croke Park," he writes.
Reaction: Duffy is right on this one. A refixture can't be ordered due to a refereeing error (if that were allowed, imagine the chaos which would ensue). Indeed, it's debatable whether a refixture should be allowed even if both counties/clubs agree. What happened to Louth was hugely regrettable, but once it was over, there was no way back. Nor should there be, as the precedent established would make running fixture programmes -- nationally and locally -- impossible.
"At last year's Congress, a commitment was given that a match ban proposal would be brought before this year's Congress. A motion to that effect -- a modest one -- is on the agenda (for Congress next month)." -- Duffy.
Reaction: Hopefully, it will be passed. It's unfair and illogical that the number of games a player misses through suspension is decided by the time of year it occurs.
Duffy defends the controversial decision to play last year's final in Thurles -- despite Tipperary's involvement.
"On the basis that Thurles had recently been refurbished through an €18m investment and that it is the association's second major stadium, the decision to play the game (Tipperary v Galway) was no more unreasonable than, for example, Tyrone travelling to play Monaghan in Clones in the Ulster football final or Wexford travelling to meet Dublin in Parnell Park in the Leinster U-21 hurling final."
Reaction: Not comparing like with like here, Paraic. Clones has long been the venue for Ulster football finals, so Tyrone are well accustomed to playing there. It's altogether different to ask U-21s to play an All-Ireland final on their opponents' training ground. As for Wexford playing Dublin in Parnell Park, the next game between them will be in Wexford Park, so will Tipperary be ordered to travel to Pearse Stadium next time they play Galway at U-21 level? Of course not. By all means play all U-21 hurling finals in Thurles, except those involving Tipperary. In fairness to Duffy, he suggests that as an option.
"Congress weekend will see discussion on motions to restore semi-finals in Division 1 of the Allianz Leagues, bring back replays in all rounds of the provincial senior championships and the All-Ireland quarter-finals and resume the inter-provincial championships.
"Each has the potential to further limit the time available for club fixtures and diminish the number of dates on which inter-county players are available to play with the their clubs. Should we be surprised if we are sometimes accused of paying lip-service to the oft-repeated refrain that the club is the most important unit of the association?" -- Duffy.
Reaction: Some of the above do impact on club fixtures, but not anything like to the same degree as when county team managers effectively close down local championships for as long as their teams remain in the All-Ireland race. Sort out that problem and the rest will follow. However, this is the responsibility of County Boards, not Croke Park.
As for lumping the inter-provincial championships in as adding to the club fixture problem, there are more than enough senior county players who have completed all major club activity by November, which is probably the best month for the inter-pros.
Post-Match Pitch Invasions
"The erection of the fencing (in Croke Park) was a success in that it prevented the potentially dangerous situations that have marked a number of recent All-Ireland finals.
"No one wants to retain barriers on Hill 16 a day longer than is necessary, but their removal is dependent on an acceptance by GAA officers and supporters that the playing area is for players only." -- Duffy.
Reaction: Ending the stampedes onto Croke Park after All-Ireland finals was necessary for health and safety but, even if that weren't the case, it was right to stop them, allowing a well-organised presentation ceremony which can be enjoyed by all. And as for those who defend the stampede as tradition, not everything from the past is worth retaining. Something exposing people to the risk of injury most certainly is not.