GAA Football

Clubs can initiate the change that would benefit everyone

Ballyboden captain Darragh Nelson lifts the Andy Merrigan Cup after the Dublin side beat Castlebar in last Thursday’s All-Ireland final to bring down the curtain on the 2015/’16 club season 

IT was with a heavy heart that I made my way to Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day to fulfil media duties. 

It is the day every club player in Ireland dreams of being part of, but having just narrowly missed out following our semi-final defeat to Castlebar last month it made the reality of the trip that bit tougher for me to stomach.

Even waking to such good weather on the morning of the game was enough to annoy me. The joy and buzz of excitement around Croke Park beforehand was amazing to see. The crowds are obviously much smaller than the inter-county scene but they feel so much more personal. Again, this didn’t help my mood because as players we felt we had let down our own supporters by not securing our place in the showcase finale.

As for the match itself, unfortunately it did not live up to the pre-game billing with Ballyboden setting a tempo from the start that Castlebar were unable to live with. It turned out to be another disastrous day for a Mayo side in an All-Ireland final.

I hope it does not have implications on the Mayo county side later in the year as I believe they have a squad of players capable of going the whole way and securing Sam in September. But, for some reason, there seems to be something holding them back from reaching the full potential when it matters most.

It was interesting to see Aidan O’Shea’s conversation regarding the so-called “curse of ’51” on Mayo football in last week’s AIB-commissioned documentary The Toughest Trade with Dr Padraig Carney, a member of the last Mayo team to win Sam in 1951. Padraig dispelled any myth of bad luck being placed on the county on the return journey from Croke Park that day. Unfortunately, with so many final defeats in recent years, the only way to kill off this myth once and for all is by Mayo getting over the line on the big day.

Now that the 2015/’16 club calendar has drawn to a close, and following weeks of me mulling over the reasons behind it, I feel now is a good time to express my disappointment at our elected officers’ failure at GAA Congress to pass the motion to shorten the inter-county calendar in order to free up more weekends for club football and at long last bring about the possibility of having our seasons run off in a calendar year.

Other than delegates being stuck on tradition of our final being played on ‘the third Sunday in September’, I cannot think of any other reason that would hold them back from the possibility of change.

Since 2004 the GAA has made a number of attempts to address the issues of player over-training, burnout, and a fixtures calendar that does not provide club players with a fair schedule of matches.

Beginning with the Competitions Review Task Force Report in 2004, and continuing through another seven major reports, the Association has investigated, discussed, and made proposals to address the over-training, burnout and fixtures questions – but still little has changed.

In his Annual Report to Congress 2015, Paraic Duffy wrote that the findings and proposals of these reports contained within them viable solutions to the over-training, player-burnout, and fixtures-scheduling problems. He promised in his Annual Report to produce a paper that would “draw on all of these proposals and allow the Association to decide how it will address these player-welfare issues and the needs of club players”.

That paper was duly circulated as a discussion document in November 2015 and offered a number of proposals drawn from the eight previously published reports. The report was made available to every unit of the Association and meetings were held with county officers in each province.

Paraic expressed the hope that all delegates would read the discussion paper carefully before making decisions that would have a major impact on the Association, our players, and clubs.

Without re-stating all of the arguments outlined in the discussion document, he reminded everyone of the two key issues that need to be addressed. One of which was:

“(ii) the great majority of club players, specifically those not involved in inter-county teams, are not offered a fair, evenly distributed and planned schedule of club matches throughout the year due to the scheduling of inter-county fixtures, and, more generally, due to the greater influence that inter-county competitions have come to enjoy and exercise in recent years. This is a source of great frustration to clubs.”

Still, nothing changed. I understand the issue of minimising football and hurling games on the same weekends but by eliminating replays they would have freed up more weekends to help with club calendar planning, therefore allowing more matches rather than training.

There are around 2,300 clubs in Ireland, each with a representative on their county board. If they are all delivering the same message from their clubs, then something doesn’t add up.

We need to be open to change, especially when the future of our games depend on it. We want to offer up the best spectacle our games can provide in order to entice more players and spectators to enjoy our games.

A look at the competition within Ireland will prove that other codes are willing to do what is needed to enhance their games. In 2003 our soccer counterparts in the League of Ireland changed their seasons from autumn/winter to spring/summer months and only last weekend we heard of the potential date changes to rugby’s Six Nations, moving from February/March to March/April.

In both cases, the deciding factor was the potential to offer a better spectacle to entice players and spectators alike to follow their games.

No-one asks what date you won your All-Ireland medal; the only thing that matters is that you have one.

Start the petitions now within your clubs to help bring about meaningful change to this brilliant organisation in 2017.

GAA Football

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