John McEntee: GPA needs to be more influential in rules change process

GAA president John Horan met with GPA CEO Paul Flynn yesterday and the GAA appears to be softening its stance on the implementation of rule changes, agreeing to review them between the end of the pre-season competitions and the start of the Allianz Leagues

ONCE again the GAA’s Standing Committee on Playing Rules announces proposed changes to how football is to be played and once more the announcement is met with fierce opposition.

A committee of knowledgeable and committed Gaels give of their time for months on end to devise a series of rule changes which, when put to players and the general support base, receives a lukewarm reception in some quarters and is met with absolute angst by others.

A small minority take the view ‘sure something needed to be done so we might as well try them out’. Such changes create evolutions.

This is not what players or supporters are looking for. Why not tinker at the edges to allow creative managers to take the game in different directions, but within the rules rather than trying to devise stifling restrictions.

For example, reducing the number of handpassing chains to five or six would be more palatable and would prevent the nonsensical scenes at the end of matches where teams attempt to hold possession and run down the clock.

The rules themselves are one issue. The bigger issue is the unchoreographed way in which they were unveiled.

For those who have not followed how this mess has unfolded, I will provide a high level summary... In early October 2018, proposed changes were released to the press and a consultation with all relevant stakeholders commenced.

If approved by Coiste Bainistíochta, the proposed rule changes would be implemented as a trial during the 2019 Allianz Football Leagues.

On Saturday, at an Ard Chomhairle meeting of the GAA in Croke Park, an amended version of the proposed rules were passed for trial during the 2019 pre-season tournaments and the Allianz League.

Roll on Monday morning when the GPA faithful rise for their poached eggs, avocado and smoked salmon breakfast with herbal tea and a copy of their favourite newspaper to read about these new proposed changes.

Within a few hours the Twitter warriors are mobilised and the GPA chief executive Paul Flynn is so exercised that he seeks an urgent meeting with the GAA to have some, if not all, the changes abandoned.

The most recent episode in this saga came yesterday when, following a cliff-edge meeting, the GAA agreed to review the proposals after the pre-season competitions and ahead of the Allianz League.

Surely the GPA would have canvassed for one of their representatives to be present on this Standing Committee and, if not, the question must be asked, why not? You would be forgiven for thinking you’ve heard this monologue before.

I am reminded of that famous quote from George Bernard Shaw, ‘we learn from history that we learn nothing from history’.

At the start of this process we were told that all county players, managers, officials and so on would be consulted. Who are the GPA, if not these players? Did they not have a voice, did they not shout or was it not heard?

I was of the view that the GAA and the GPA were bedfellows – yet anytime wholesale changes are proposed the GPA lead the opposition... usually just after the horse has usually bolted.

The driver behind the proposed changes is the perception that the game is in dire need of a pint of blood before life is irrevocably drained out of it by defensive systems.

Reductions in semi-final attendances and a general malaise towards watching senior inter-county football are the primary evidence presented to demonstrate this case.

Of course, it is not that simple, it never is. In the past year, fewer supporters attended matches than in previous years due to the cost of tickets, travel and other ancillary costs, opting instead

to perhaps direct their hard-earned cash on holidays or other treats.

Many people continue to suffer hardships associated with the recession or with funding children’s education, clothing, mobile phones and so on.

My point is that using the attendance figures of one year to substantiate an argument can lead to bad decisions.

Why not examine the trends over two or three or four years? Well, there is a simple, if not shambolic reason for this.

It appears that under GAA rule, changes to the playing rules of Gaelic Games are only possible in years divisible by five, making 2020 a year that permits changes to the playing rules.

In order for rules to be changed, they must first be proposed, tested and approved and this takes time.

If the GAA were to wait on a trend to develop which evidences the fears expressed by some, they would miss their opportunity for change in 2020.

Perhaps the GPA should seek to alter the GAA policies and procedures to make the introduction of rule changes more flexible and timely.

The GPA are supposed to be part of the mechanics of Croke Park. It is time they reviewed their relationship and where their influence lies, for it is unacceptable to voice concerns after the event when they have a seat at the high tables of Croke Park.

At this late stage one would expect county players and managers to have had their say and to sign up to the proposed changes.

As is true of every change process, not everyone is happy, but everyone ought to have had the opportunity to influence.

We might soon come to realise that proposed changes can make estranged bedfellows of the GAA and GPA.

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