Twenty months after stepping down as GAA director general, there remains a great respect for Páraic Duffy’s tenure at the top. However, there are elements of his legacy that time has already tested and failed.
At least yesterday would have brought Duffy some good cheer with the news that the future of the International Rules being secured until 2022.
A massive fan of the hybrid game, Duffy saw value in Gaelic footballers lining out for their country as he appreciated keeping the communication channels open with the AFL was worthwhile given the similarities of the sports and the number of Irish signing for clubs in Australia.
Duffy and his equivalent in the AFL, Gillon MacLachlan, had an excellent relationship but with the Monaghan man’s exit some of the keenness for the relationship was lost, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to claim there is more scepticism than support for the initiative in Croke Park these days.
By 2020, it will be three years since the last series — in Duffy’s 10 years in office, there were four two-test series and two one-off tests.
Duffy’s Super 8 was an experiment and therefore open to change and yet again it will alter for the final and third season of its temporary status next year when the schedule shifts so that the winners in Round 1 face off in Round 2, a measure proposed to try and avoid dead rubbers as has been the case these past two seasons.
It’s unlikely the Super 8 will survive into 2021 but there was some courageous work done by Duffy that also looks set to be undone.
Before he became director general and held the player welfare office, Duffy wanted the U21 football championship scrapped completely and last put forward the idea in 2015.
After significant pushback against the proposal, he produced the compromise of an U20 developmental competition played during the summer because it would not feature senior players. Duffy’s point was the burden on promising footballers.
He wrote in his 2015 burnout report:
“There are too many matches and too much training for the good U21 (now U20) football player, which greatly increases the risk of overtraining, overuse injury and burnout.
“There is a great variance in the levels of physical conditioning required to play at different stages of the January-April period, leading to contradictory demands being placed on players.
"For example, the good footballer aged 20-21 may wish to be in peak condition to help his team win the U21 championship, but such conditioning is incompatible with the conditioning demands of the early rounds of the Allianz League.”
Next year, the U20 championship goes back to spring where it will clash with the Allianz Leagues. Not only that, U20 players won’t be prevented from lining out for their senior county teams next season.
Beginning in early February, it will be preceded by the Sigerson Cup in its new 18-day blitz-like schedule in January. Having grafted for so long to break up the concentration of games in January to April that had so concerned him, Duffy would be dismayed if not surprised given how quick GAA officialdom can U-turn to see the reversion. He also highlighted in his 2015 report:
“The excessive demands on young inter-county players attending third-level colleges can have a negative impact on their academic performance, but also on their physical and psychological well-being.”
To see the Sigerson Cup marginalised and shoehorned into one of, if not the worst weather month of the year will disappoint him too.
Although its new start date will clash with exams in some third level institutions, there are some crumbs of comfort in it taking place post-Christmas when there were attempts to shift it to mid-December, which he has previously described as “unfair”.
Old enough to remember when Gaelic games had scant presence in several colleges and universities, the proliferation of football and hurling activity in these institutions thrilled Duffy and the GAA Higher Education had an ally in him.
But he also recognised the resources colleges and universities were being put in to facilitate Gaelic games on their campuses.
In his 2015 annual report, he wrote: “We should acknowledge the contribution that this sector has made towards the development of our games in several important areas — in the raising of playing standards, in the training of administrators, the provision of scholarships to elite players and in the huge investment in our games and infrastructure.
"On the contrary, they should have the support of administrators at all levels, who should appreciate the important contribution that the third-level sector has made to the growth of the GAA.”
Squeezing a 16-team Sigerson Cup into 18 days of a muck of a month is showing little respect to that or a conscientious former chief executive.
For only the second time in the last 10 years there will be no Kerry representative in the Munster Club SFC final on Sunday week. What Austin Stacks offered up as club championship winners against Nemo Rangers was powder puff even if it was asking a lot of them to put up a fight given their last championship game was the end of September and since then their only outing was a facile Division 1 league win over St Mary’s.
After Dingle were denied the opportunity to represent Kerry in 2015 having been crowned club champions, the rule was cleared up so that it wouldn’t happen again and so Stacks benefitted on this occasion, only that it didn’t feel that way long before the final whistle in Páirc Uí Rinn on Sunday.
With East Kerry welcoming Rathmore into their collective next year, it’s not as if the division is going to get weaker and in the years to come we might see more of the winners of the April club championship being asked to represent Kerry. That doesn’t bode well for Kerry clubs winning provincial and All-Ireland titles but they will argue theirs is a system that works.
It most certainly does at lower levels. There were no such difficulties for Templenoe nor Na Gaeil this past weekend though as they took a step closer to becoming the sixth and third consecutive Kerry winners of the provincial intermediate and junior championships.
Effectively ranked ninth in Kerry against Éire Óg rated 20th in Cork, Templenoe weren’t going to have much difficulty. The different systems of grading between counties has been a major contributor to the huge All-Ireland successes Kerry junior and intermediate clubs have enjoyed but the example of Stacks indicates that for everything given, something else can be lost.
Antrim’s “Saffron Vision” four years ago paved the way for how the complexion of county boards can be changed overnight and Offaly hope to do the same with their Michael Duignan-led group at the county’s upcoming convention.
Former county hurler Duignan will contest the chairmanship with incumbent Tommy Byrne with a number of like-minded individuals including Irish Examiner columnist Brian Gavin (Leinster Council representative) challenging for other executive positions.
In Galway, all but vice-chairmanship and treasurer roles are up for grabs, although it remains to be seen if businessman Mick Culhane will battle it out with current chairman Pat Kearney for the top spot. And there is sure to be competition for places at the top table in Mayo too although a number of officers will be exiting having reached the limit of their terms.
At least there are people prepared to put their heads above the parapet because being a county board official isn’t all that enticing right now. And no matter how much the GAA are trying to train and upskill them, county boards are creaking under strains that simply weren’t there 10 or 15 years ago. It’s no longer good enough to volunteer anymore, which is a stark reality when you think about it.
A former GAA president recently suggested to this column that county boards might work more efficiently were the chairman, vice-chairman, and secretary to be allowed come together and form their own executives based on suitability instead of popularity. It’s certainly an idea as county boards as we know them struggle with the demands now placed on them.