So far, this GAA year seems to be the same as most of the others in recent memory — a flurry of questions being asked in order, it seems, to fill the days until the season proper throws in (apologies, Waterford Crystal; sorry about that, Dr McKenna).
The connectedness of those issues — what’s that movie in the cinemas at present, The Theory of Everything? — can’t be denied. Compressing fixtures puts pressure on the calendar; that increases the chances of burnout; and injuries cost money.
A couple of observations, though.
Kevin McStay made the sharpest GAA point I’ve heard in recent years last season, when he made the point that Irish people simply won’t accept discipline. This is at the heart of many of the GAA’s current woes: a refusal to accept, accompanied by a reluctance to impose. The hard rules of the Association are taken as a starting point for avoidance rather than a full stop when it comes to discipline: take the foggy-minded furores that erupt when players may miss big championship games, usually fuelled by the laughable “he’s not that kind of player”.
In contrast, what’s accepted without question is the unspoken convention that a county will try everything to free him to play. This is reminiscent of a John Hooper observation about the Italian mindset: laws are disregarded casually, but conventions are rigorously upheld. Thus the GAA.
The lazy view is that this can’t change — that the hardwiring of the GAA player/official/supporter is so deep that you’ll never get people to abandon the notion that it’s not the law, it’s the loophole.
I wonder, though. A few years ago in a back room in Croke Park the then-president, Christy Cooney, outlined plans to put a halt to pitch invasions in Croke Park after big games. He was strong in his defence of the plan and said it was just going to be implemented: simple as that.
Nowadays one would be shocked to see the crown spill onto the field in the big stadium in Dublin.
The rule was announced and enforced, and despite the audible grumbles of those who felt charging onto the field like a bullock was just something the lads in Hayes’ Hotel simply forgot to enshrine in writing, the GAA didn’t collapse as a result.
Burnout can be addressed by simply limiting the number of teams a youngster plays for. Calendar challenges and fixture headaches — apparently fixture problems must be likened to migraines by law — can be met by telling county managers they don’t run the GAA in a county, contrary to their own beliefs.
The only problem is enforcing the solutions you come up with.
If that means suspending clubs or throwing teams out of competitions pour encourager les autres, then it’s a temporary pain that’s worth taking for the future good.
Tomorrow, the Women’s Gaelic Players Association, or WGPA, will be launched at the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin.
This is an event which will no doubt be boosted by the documentary airing tonight, Coming Out Of The Curve, which deals with gay rights around the world and which, as you no doubt know, features Cork football star Valerie Mulcahy.
The grizzled cynic in you might raise an eyebrow at the timing of those events, but the WGPA will need all the help it can get.
Not because it’s a woman’s organisation, and not because it’s competing for relevance, funding and recognition with other bodies, but because of something its male counterpart struggled with.
A few years ago when writing a book, I asked Dessie Farrell and Sean Potts of the GPA if they were worried about an alternative player body supplanting their organisation.
They pointed out that it was difficult to get players involved in the official body, even with its track record and standing; on that basis it was difficult to envisage a group galvanising enough players to set up another, rival organisation.
This is something the WGPA is going to learn pretty soon: that beyond the flash of cameras and thrust of microphones tomorrow in Dublin, the work in front of them is largely with their own (potential) membership.
By their nature, ambitious sports people are focused on improving themselves, whether that’s in a solo sport or a team environment.
A key challenge for the WGPA is to show the benefits for camogie players and ladies footballers in getting involved, and by getting involved, that means running a 32-county organisation with hundreds of members.
That said, for this observer there’s one key trump card the new organisation holds: it provides a collective face for sports which often feel neglected and can plan action to benefit its membership. What form will that action take?
Much obliged to the people who shared details of David Ginola’s Fifa presidential bid last week. I think I speak (gratefully) for all who write about sport when I say this is a debt which may never be repaid.
Though giving more publicity to Ginola’s sponsor goes against the grain, the gaiety of the nation was much improved when it emerged that the French winger’s organisation intended to splash out £100,000 (€131,000) on security, never mind the fact that reports over the weekend suggested that even if — perish the thought — his bid to replace Sepp Blatter doesn’t make it to February, he’ll still be paid £250,000 (€327,000) by the bookmakers who are behind him.
Surely there’s some kind of lesson or parable here, one which involves appearance and substance, something Aesop would have worked into a decent fable. Ginola’s iconic locks versus the shiny Blatter pate: luxurious innocence meets the raddled aftermath of experience, or something.
The real question is this, though: do you really care?
Before leaving Fifa and all who sail in her, one thing I took away from the Stephanie Roche bid for glory was the string of unsurprising reactions, which followed what appears to be a set sequence.
There has to be an umbrella term for the wearyingly familiar sequence which unfurls when something like this happens — the stages of grief reworked as the stages of virality or some such, with the emphasis on ‘stages’, recognisable steps which occur one after another.
Starting off, do we have a patriotic call to arms to vote, early and often? Check.
Move to the patriotic taking of umbrage if everyone doesn’t row in behind the war effort? Check.
Commentator decides to ‘speak the truth’ about said goal for effect? Check.
Apology offered for something or other to do with the goal? Check.
Embarrassing stone-age sexism towards the player herself afterwards? Check.