GAA Football

Kicking Out: Why is county game being allowed to hold clubs to ransom?

Derry chairman Stephen Barker caught the attention at the weekend with his comments on the county's club fixtures. Barker spent his playing days in goals for Moneymore and looks at things in a different way from the standard top-down approach of many administrators. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

“I cannot see our managers allowing it [club championships] to go into October.”
Clare county chairman, Joe Cooney

“I’ve told Rory [Gallagher] this is the way it’s going to be, this is the way it’s laid out for us.”
Derry county chairman, Stephen Barker

IF you need a window into what drives comments like Joe Cooney’s, you need look no further than the GPA’s statement yesterday.

Under the heading core priorities, the county players’ representative body says that “any inter-county training session organised before September 14 must be covered by the GAA injury benefit scheme”.

They actually put the second half of it in bold themselves.

There’s no sense that they’re asking in the statement.

Only the sense of entitlement we’ve come to know and love.

The very good reason that inter-county training is outlawed until September 14 is so that county managers will not ride roughshod over the club championships.

Withholding insurance is the only weapon the GAA really has in the fight. It is something of a nuclear option, a road that nobody really wants to go down. The last thing the GAA wants to be about is leaving its players hung out and at risk of financial troubles if they hurt themselves on duty.

But at some point, the law has to apply. And most, if not all, inter-county teams have shown absolutely no respect for them over many years. That’s how we’ve ended up at this point.

Some counties have very deliberately squeezed their club championships into the tightest possible window. You could not seriously suggest that it’s for any reason other than to suit the county team.

In Tyrone, players will be asked to play four club games in nine days.

The flipside is that the alternative would be putting the games on after the championship, by which stage county players will have disappeared off the club scene again.

In Armagh, it is three games in nine days.

The latter have gone from a round-robin championship to straight knockout, and will run it off over five weekends, with the county final brought forward from the date originally proposed to September 13.

That’s certainly not for the good of the club player.

I love inter-county games. They provide an electricity and an atmosphere and a sense of unity that the club game cannot.

The GAA needs the inter-county game, and it needs it to be vibrant.

But it’s gone nuts.

County boards have allowed themselves to be strangled.

In what parallel universe should they be told by the county manager how to run club championships?

Derry are one county that have done it right.

Stephen Barker is proving himself to be one of the top administrators in Ireland.

The new county chairman revolutionised the club fixtures when he was head of CCC, and has done it the right way.

Instead of telling clubs what they can do and what they’ll get, he asks them what they want and listens to the answer.

He gets it. He spent his playing days in nets for Moneymore, who straddled between intermediate and senior at their peak.

Derry is better for the fact that Barker comes from such surroundings and doesn't look at things from the top down.

The clubs don’t get everything they want, but what’s found is a balance between club and county that recognises the vast majority of the playing population must take priority.

That should be the most basic principle by which any county board operates.

Colm Parkinson was stirring the pot on Twitter over the weekend, suggesting that Derry had somehow done something wrong by giving the full 11 weeks to the clubs.

He was miffed by Derry playing club championships right up until October 11 and only leaving the county team a week to prepare for its first league game after the restart.

As if this was some sort of heinous insult to the county team. That they would only have seven days to prepare for a league game.

It might fit him a bit better to stand on the other side of the fence and wonder how fair four games in nine days is.

That’s how sections of the media have contributed to warping the debate on fixtures.

Objectivity has been lost by many. The inter-county game keeps us in employment. It’s as if we must defend it so as to protect ourselves.

The idea that the GAA needs a “media presence” for as much of the year as possible is a media construct in itself.

We, as journalists, need the GAA to have that presence so that our lives are easier. The inter-county game provides that.

There’s a huge amount of self-interest wrapped up in much of the commentary.

This idea that only county teams need or deserve time to prepare for a game has been allowed to come up through the GAA like a weed.

There’s great concern in certain quarters that county teams might not get their due preparation time, but in many quarters not a word whispered when clubs are routinely given whatever crumbs fall from the banquet.

As if club players don’t do two pitch sessions and two strength and conditioning sessions now, or watch what they eat, or study the opposition.

The top end of club football is now where county football was not that long ago.

And yet it seems to be acceptable for players to be stripped away for nine months of the year and parachuted back in two weeks before a championship starts.

The inter-county game brings in the money, but where does it go? It’s true the GAA redistributes it back into the counties, but either directly or indirectly, the vast majority of it is pumped into the county game.

Clubs fend for themselves. They do their own fundraising and much of the grant money comes in through government schemes.

As a percentage of its income, the GAA centrally spends a miniscule amount on directly funding clubs.

County boards spend practically nothing on them.

It’s time county boards stood up to managers, and time that clubs held them to account for it.

Every county board should have to give 50 per cent of its income back to clubs in some shape or form.

They should set their fixtures as suits club players, not the county team.

Do the damn thing right.

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