THE two most senior GAA officials, President Christy Cooney and Director General Paraic Duffy, are currently on a tour of the country meeting County Board chairmen and secretaries to discuss a number of issues of critical importance to the ’Association.
I have travelled that journey on a few occasions. Engaging with key local officials in every county at the start of the year is important as it affords all parties an opportunity to exchange views on a variety of topics.
I know many officials are happy to attend and engage face to face with senior GAA personnel. Others may be somewhat less enthusiastic. Last weekend’s newspapers offered plenty of comment on these meetings.
One in fact proffered the headline asking whether the two senior GAA men were really serious about tackling the big issues.
The foundation on which the GAA operates is its Official Guide. Every organisation must operate by rules and guidelines and the GAA is no different. By virtue of its diverse range of activities and the need to provide rules and regulations covering every possibility in its games and administration, the GAA Official Guide is a complicated document.
Over the past two decades numerous rule changes has placed the spotlight on the Official Guide, where it has often been ridiculed as being too archaic in dealing with issues in a modern context.
What seems to get lost in all the discussions and debate on GAA rules is that they only get into the Official Guide when a majority (or two-thirds in some instances) of GAA members attending annual Congress vote in their favour.
In demonstrating their democratic right, members are agreeing to adhere by either new or revised rules. The reality, though, in many instances is very different. GAA rules are regularly flouted and you have to wonder whether some current rules serve any useful purpose.
It is only fair that I declare a bias when it comes to commenting on where responsibility should lie in implementing and ensuring adherence with GAA rules. As rules are implemented by the votes of individual counties, responsibility for adhering to what they purport to regulate should also rest with these same counties and their clubs.
Tackling the big issues
When a newspaper headline asks whether the top two GAA officials are serious about tackling the big issues, one has to ask the very same question of county officials. Counties, by and large, are good at implementing GAA rules and guidelines, but fall down badly in a number of areas.
Using the ‘big stick” approach will not work, so the tour of the country by the top two officials is being used to harness the support of county officers in ensuring compliance with ’Association rules.
Seven topics were on the agenda at each provincial meeting. First up was the issue of the closed season. The evidence (perhaps anecdotal) is that this regulation is being flouted by some counties. If that is the case then it is being condoned by some senior county officials.
The current regulation relating to the closed season is likely to be changed at the upcoming GAA Congress, perhaps limiting the period of inactivity to November. We also saw during the past week where the GAA Medical Committee is likely to advocate a specific pre-season strength and conditioning programme for all inter-county players.
The size of match panels is another contentious issue. Personally I do not care how many players are on an inter-county panel. But it must be frustrating for clubs to see some players getting so little action with county or club.
Some common sense is required here.
Players of inter-county standard need regular competitive action. If this is not provided by the county team then they must be allowed to play for their clubs, even if it is only a challenge game.
The use of GAA property by other sporting codes is back on the agenda, but it will not be as contentious this time when compared to the relaxation of Rule 42 which temporarily allowed the use of Croke Park for rugby and soccer.
The use of GAA playing pitches by other codes is not at issue. Right now GAA clubs are stretched coping with the demands of all teams for playing pitches.
Over the past two decades many clubs developed astro turf facilities to enhance their training programmes, but they saw these also as providing an additional source of income. Therein lies the dilemma! To generate that additional revenue clubs started to look elsewhere for “customers” to utilise their facilities.
Many clubs around the country are flouting Rule 42 by allowing other codes (primarily soccer) to use their facilities. This has been happening for some time, but do not criticise the GAA President when he asks clubs to abide by Rule 42 as he is only doing his job.
With a growing number of clubs depending on this source of revenue, asking them to abide by Rule 42 continues to fall on deaf ears. The present situation is not tenable, so perhaps it is up to a club to submit a motion to a future Congress which clearly differentiates between the use of GAA playing pitches and leisure facilities, with the latter being ring-fenced for commercial use by clubs.
Club fixtures under microscope
Club fixture schedules in all counties also came under the microscope. This subject has received lots of publicity in recent years and in my view the situation has improved considerably around the country.
More progress is required if ordinary club players are to receive a minimum of 20 games per annum.
Key to measuring the progress with the delivery of an adequate club programme of games is the GAA Fixtures Management System. Two-thirds of the counties now use the system and it is heartening to note that Kilkenny is one of its top users.
The manner in which Kilkenny club fixtures are planned and updated with scores is most impressive.
While other matters were also raised during the provincial meetings, the last issue I will mention is the thorny topic of payments to team managers. Like the closed playing season, the evidence of team managers being paid is also anecdotal, but the suspicion remains that some individuals are receiving more than is officially allowed.
Ignoring the matter and saying it does not exist is not an option for the GAA. The ’Association has three options - implement a payment structure which recognises the specific input and expertise of team managers; insist (under rule) that management appointments must come from within each unit – that is, a club manager from within his club and a country manager from within his county.
Right to be concerned
The GAA is right to be concerned at what is happening around the country, but its ability to implement strict adherence to the rule is entirely dependent on the support of county and club officials.
Some of these officials have no intention of adhering to the current rule prohibiting payments to managers, but gathering the necessary evidence to prosecute them would require the skill of a Sherlock Holmes.
Doing nothing may well end up as the third option for the GAA. It is the least preferable solution, but for now it is difficult to know if there is an appetite to implement a strict enforceable rule.
A reluctance to face up to this matter will be a serious mistake by the GAA.