GAA body needs to be careful when flexing muscles and wielding clubs
IT might not be right to suggest that dog is finally starting to wag its tail, rather than vice versa, but certainly the body is making its importance known to the head.
Clearly inter-county players are the 'face' of the GAA, but as most of them acknowledge themselves, they wouldn't get to their elevated positions without the support and training they receive(d) at their clubs.
Even before the official launch of the Club Players' Association (CPA) at the start of this year there had been increasing unrest within the GAA about the attention being devoted to the inter-county championships at the expense of the club scene.
In terms of proportion, we should really be talking about the tip of the tail or the tip of the nose.
The CPA points out that less than two per cent of GAA players are involved at inter-county level in the high summer months – 832 footballers officially on county panels out of more than 50,000 players in total and 468 hurlers from more than 30,000 clubmen.
The CPA has put forward many ideas and suggestions aimed at redressing the balance and giving more space in the GAA calendar for club action.
Their latest proposals have been formalised into eight motions (see pages 70 and 72).
It's fitting that the first of them is also arguably the most important, regarding the traceability of voting by delegates at Annual Congress, something that should give clubs greater say and sway.
There have often been mutterings about delegates voting against their mandate, especially over contentious changes such as those regarding rules 21 (the ban on membership for anyone in British security forces) and 42 (allowing non-Gaelic games to be played in GAA grounds).
The CPA wants votes at Congress to be recorded, announced, displayed, in order (with obligatory GAA CAPITALS): 'To allow Clubs the visibility of how the elected Congress Delegates of their respective County voted on each Motion at Congress.
'In the event that a Delegate uses their own discretion, as is their right, to vote against the wishes of their Clubs and/or County Convention, then at least that Delegate is accountable and will be obliged to explain to the Club Delegates and County Committee at the next County Committee Meeting why the wishes of the Clubs and/or County Convention were not reflected by them at Congress.'
This column would go further. As has been suggested here before, there's no reason why the much-vaunted `democracy in action' of the GAA cannot be made more visible, or at least accessible, at all levels.
Given the widespread availability of modern technology, there's no good reason why all fully paid-up club members should not be allowed a vote on issues/ motions, first at their club, then this mandate taken on to county boards and then on to Congress.
As a recent example, the CPA polled club players in Donegal online, seeking their views on proposed changes to league structures in that county. The players' views didn't technically count in the vote, but the club delegates did go with the system that most players wanted.
Yet club members' views and votes could and should be taken into account by such methods.
Obviously you shouldn't necessarily have to be in a certain room at a certain time in order to exercise your democratic right to vote.
As the CPA has acknowledged, delegates do have a right to vote differently to the way they were mandated, especially if their opinion has been changed or swayed by pertinent points made at a convention or Congress.
The key is to explain themselves. If clubs aren't happy with that explanation then the solution is simple – vote them out.
Having said all that, clubs should be careful about flexing their muscles too much. The body of the GAA shouldn't throw its weight about too much.
Although the term 'club/ county divide' is fairly widely used, it's not often an 'either/or' debate. For quite a few players it's shades of grey rather than a stark black and white difference between being one or the other.
The better players obviously have ambitions to represent their county, but to get the opportunity to do so they'll have to perform well for their clubs.
Even many of those who play year after year for their county are still keen to contribute for their club.
Equally, though, clubs are proud to have their players represent the county, so members should be wary of damaging the inter-county product too much.
The idea of concluding all inter-county football and hurling, apart from the All-Ireland semi-finals and finals, by mid-July, as in the CPA's motions 7 and 8, may be steps too far.
Sure, there would be more time for club matches, but the GAA could lose out on important exposure in all forms of media to other sports if they give up more of the summer, having already committed to the major move of taking All-Ireland Finals in both codes out of September.
The head and face are at last as important as the body.