GAA Football

Meaningful motions in short supply at GAA Congress

Young talent like the Tyrone U21s may be in even more demand when the football grade changes to U20 in 2018
Picture by Philip Walsh

ON THE face of it, GAA congress passing 38 out of 65 motions (rejecting 24, with three withdrawn) is pretty good going. That’s a success rate of more than 58 per cent - not enough for a two-thirds majority, but still.

When you look a little more closely, though, that figure is not nearly so eye-catching. Take out the 28 motions from the Rules Advisory Committee (RAC), which were described as "mostly house-keeping", clearing up technicalities and so on - and were almost all passed by majorities of well over 90 per cent - and the number of motions passed drops down to 10. Indeed, the only RAC motion passed with support of less than 92 per cent related to the election of officers at county convention… Go figure.

The very first motion almost falls into that above category of ‘house-keeping’, Central Council basically saying, ‘Let’s keep the inter-county hurling Championship as it is’, which attracted almost 98 per cent backing.

There were other motions passed which didn’t attract any significant debate either. Motion three cleared up the anomaly whereby games in senior inter-county ‘pre-season’ competitions technically should only have lasted an hour not 70 minutes - who knew, eh? - and again this was basically nodded through, by almost 96 per cent of delegates.

Motion 49 related to Australasian Transfers (more than 97 per cent support), while motion 62 reduced the period within which referees must submit their report to five days (backed by almost 94 per cent of delegates).

So when it comes down to it, there were six significant motions passed, as follows: Changing the inter-county minor age grade from U18 to U17; altering the U21 inter-county football championship to U20 and moving its games to be played mostly in July (with some in June and August); the introduction of the mark (you may have read about that); removing the word body from ‘deliberately body collide’ in the black card rules; and allowing the Christy Ring Cup winners to play in the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship ‘quarter-finals’ in the same calendar year (rather than having to wait until the next year).

The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that that’s only five. The sixth, fittingly enough, was motion six, which ruled that players not on the inter-county senior panel of 26 shall be available to their clubs on National League and senior Championship weekends - 95 per cent supported that change. The size of that majority, ironically, might suggest delegates don’t actually regard it as all that important.

Making the motion work in practice will be another matter entirely. Tipperary chairman Michael Burke raised the issue of only finding out late on in a week who is on or not on a county panel that particular weekend. The 26 can change from week-to-week, for various reasons: injury, illness, suspension, fall-outs, loss of form, changes in selection policy etc.

GAA president Aogan O Fearghail replied: “We’re making the point that you’re in charge, you’re the county chairman, you control what happens in your county.”

That wasn’t met with the peals of laughter that should have greeted it. County managers, especially those in charge of the more successful sides, exert great influence, notably over ‘county players’ and over when club championship games take place during the summer.

Clubs won’t want important matches, especially Championship games, put in the schedule without knowing whether or not they’ll have their county player(s) actually available to them.

A club fixture calendar which changes from week-to-week isn’t much use. Yes, that’s what’s been happening to club fixture calendars for years and they’re not much use. Not to club players anyway.

On the subject of who has first call on players, there’ll have to be very close cooperation between inter-county senior football managers and their new U20 counterparts when that new grade comes in from 2018.

Amidst the obvious focus on the age change and some debate about the timing change to the summer months, most appeared to overlook this paragraph in the motion (with Weird GAA Capital Letters kept In): "A Player who is on a team list submitted to a Referee for an Inter-County Senior Championship game at any stage of the Current Championship year is ineligible to participate in the Inter-County Under 20 Football Championship.’

With senior championships starting before the new U20 competition, even those men who are in charge of both senior and U20 county teams, as happens in some counties, may have Smeagol/Gollum conversations, along these lines: ‘I want to keep Joe O’Bloggs for the U20s this summer, Smeagol’.

‘No, I’m picking him for the seniors this Sunday, Gollum’.

‘My precious young player’.

‘MY precious young player’, etc, etc.

Adding to the irritation of club players were the ‘near misses’ suffered by motions which would have created room for a more regular club fixtures calendar. The proposals to bring forward All-Ireland finals by a fortnight; bring in extra-time for almost all inter-county senior Championship games (thereby reducing the chance of chaos-causing replays); and end the All-Ireland Intermediate Hurling Championship and All-Ireland Junior Football Championship all received significant backing.

Indeed, only the ‘end most replays’ motion earned less than 60 per cent backing and it got 57.5 per cent. But none of them reached the ‘high bar’ of the two-thirds majority required.

In terms of taking players away from their clubs, Paraic Duffy’s frustration was vented most publicly at those lesser inter-county competitions, pointing out that both mostly involved the ‘second best sides’ of the county involved, rather than only players from intermediate hurling or junior football clubs.

Indeed, Duffy revealed Dublin (football) and Kilkenny (hurling, obviously) asked last weekend to be allowed to play their second best sides in those respective competitions. At least those two counties were being open and honest.

It may be noteworthy that, of the four motions passed which involved any serious debate, the changes to the minor inter-county grade and U21 football were the last two motions passed on the Friday night.

The mood for change continued into Saturday morning, with motion six the first up then. The mark and the tweak to the black card rule were the last two before lunch. After that meal, though, only three more motions out of 21 were passed (with motions 56 and 57 having been dealt with the night before).

Congress: Bringing another meaning to passing motions.

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