The Club Players Association (CPA) weren’t sparing with their language last week, but then, they would have had reason. The description of the fixtures taskforce as “a Trojan horse” was the exact phrase used by Europe chairman Tony Bass at Congress last year when he dismissed their transparency motion, which was then defeated heavily.
The CPA don’t forget — executive member Liam Griffin made that abundantly clear when he spoke of the GAA hierarchy being a cold house for them. “What’s wrong with civil disobedience?” he said of the need for some dissent in the taskforce.
In pulling away from the group, the CPA have displayed just that and possibly done their members a greater service than by agreeing to join it in the first place. The hullabaloo they have created will not only focus minds in Croke Park and the wider GAA community but strike at the apathy they worry could see the status quo being retained.
At the penultimate taskforce meeting last Wednesday, it was agreed three All-Ireland SFC proposals would be put to clubs over the coming months. The CPA’s action, it is believed, didn’t prompt the decision to provide that variety of choice but it didn’t hurt either.
Two figures close to the taskforce believe there will be intense pressure on the GAA early in the year to embrace something more meaningful than a continuation of the All-Ireland SFC Super 8 and reaffirmation for the second tier. One argued the grassroots won’t be satisfied with minimal alterations to championship while another predicts the 2020 fixtures calendar is such a mess the mood music for change will be thumping.
On the other hand, fixtures fatigue is a real thing and the idea of transforming the football championship before the second tier has even come into effect might also work against the league being flipped into the summer or the provincial structure becoming four conferences of eight.
Apart from how disillusioned they had become on the taskforce, it’s that fear which triggered the CPA to do what they did last week; that in organising a Special Congress to usher in a second tier for the All-Ireland SFC, GAA president John Horan may have gazumped his own fixtures body.
Horan said he brought forward the vote having listened to “the Leitrims and Wicklows” but, in doing so, he also ticked a box drawn at the outset of his presidency. “The big challenge for me comes in my last year, when the hurling and football championships are up for review,” he said in March last year, less than a month after becoming Uachtarán. “I would have hope that we would end up with a two-tiered senior football championship. That would be one of my ambitions.”
Anyone who has followed the history of the second tier/Tommy Murphy Cup would appreciate that opinions about it are incredibly capricious. It was the weaker counties who themselves called for the Tommy Murphy Cup back in the 2000s only to later desert it. And it was only three years ago that Central Council’s ‘B’ football championship was withdrawn from the clár as the expected heavy defeat would have knocked it off the agenda for years.
The GAA’s questionable track record in backing lower-tier competitions brings into question why the second tier, as it has been formatted for 2020, had to be in place before the taskforce had completed their work. Was it any wonder the CPA felt the body was compromised?
“I do not question their intentions,” Horan said of the CPA in February. “But I would put it to them that we need to see them submit a more detailed sample of how they would propose to fill the blank canvas on fixtures which they talk about to further enhance debate on the challenge around fixtures. We want solutions.”
Scrutinising the array of documents that they issued at last Tuesday’s press conference, the CPA certainly gave the GAA a host of ideas if not solutions. Up until their involvement in the taskforce, the CPA would have been coming from an idealistic perspective. The blank canvas approach was just that and, among the taskforce, there had been questions raised about their acumen in actually putting a fixtures programme together. It was mentioned by one taskforce member that they didn’t give enough consideration to dual counties while player welfare concerns were raised about their suggestion of a week-on-week Allianz League as well as playing off the U20 football and hurling championships in March.
The CPA have made it clear they can’t accept the status quo or anything close to it. If clubs and counties do then they have nobody to blame but themselves if they have complaints in the future.
The news that former Meath chairman Peter O’Halloran can’t be sanctioned for a WhatsApp message to referee Patrick Neilis, suggesting the whistler might be sent to “ride” Slane, rightly drew the ire of the club at the weekend.
In a statement on Saturday, they voiced their displeasure at how the matter was dealt with. O’Halloran had sent the message during his time as competitions control committee chairman in March 2017 but as the incident fell outside the 96-week window, legal advice was that he could not be formally punished by way of a ban.
Part of their statement read: “Our club has not been afforded an opportunity to express its complete abhorrence at the content of this exchange between the then chairman of the CCC and a referee. We have not been given the opportunity to voice this at county board level and we feel we may have been misdirected by the county board, or else ignored by the Leinster investigation team.
“We have not received any apology from Peter O’Halloran or the Meath County Board for what has happened or any assurances that this was indeed a once-off event that was only avoided by the good conscience of the referee on this particular occasion. We have perhaps unwisely placed our trust in the disciplinary institutions of the GAA and do feel aggrieved and let down.”
It finished: “Meath is a proud county, with proud GAA people who expect so much better and it is our fear that unless we set and meet these standards it may unfortunately be some time before we see our glory days back again. Standards are set at the top.”
The Meath County Board unsuccessfully attempted to debar O’Halloran from standing for election for an executive position in 2020. The whole issue highlights the dangers of social media. As if there hasn’t been enough examples of that in GAA this month.
The GAA’s touching tribute to three of the victims of Bloody Sunday on the 99th anniversary of the attack in Croke Park brought to mind the harrowing nature of the deaths.
The murders of schoolboys Jerome O’Leary (10), William Robinson (11), and John William Scott (14) are particularly traumatic to recall.
How could anyone not be upset by how Tom Ryan was shot dead as he whispered an Act of Contrition into Mick Hogan’s ear or the terrible fate of Michael Feery as he was impaled on a spike as he tried to climb to safety?
Michael Foley’s The Bloodied Field, which assisted the GAA in unveiling gravestones for O’Leary, Feery, and Patrick O’Dowd last week, goes a long way to ensuring we will never forget not just a dark day in the struggle for Irish independence but sport in general.
Reading the book and learning that at least six of the 14 victims died scrambling for safety, we couldn’t help thinking of Hillsborough 70 years later and how so many of the 96 Liverpool supporters had perished the same way. How Tipperary man Dan Carroll decided to attend that Tipperary-Dublin match at the last minute just as Steven Gerrard’s 10-year-old cousin Jon Paul Gilhooley got his hands on a ticket for that FA Cup semi-final before kick-off.
A man, a boy who went to a game of football and never came home.
Helping to personalise the victims by honouring their memories, the GAA have to be commended.