The skewering that Colm Parkinson recently gave Páraic Duffy’s proposals for changes to the structure of the All-Ireland Football Championship has left a series of questions that remain unanswered.
Parkinson was commenting on the fact that the newly formed Club Players’ Association had come out in opposition to Duffy’s proposals.
Those proposals essentially revolve around playing the All-Ireland finals three weeks earlier and creating two groups of four at the quarter-final stage, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the semi-finals.
The essential purpose of the Club Players’ Association is to ‘fix the fixtures’ and they took the view that the proposals do not go nearly far enough in redressing the problems faced by club players.
In making their opposition public, they requested that Duffy withdraw his motion until they had time to develop the sort of far-reaching change that would seriously improve the lot of club players.
And Colm Parkinson agreed with this.
He said: “Páraic Duffy is fixing very little here outside of putting on extra games in the summer… It is eight extra games in the height of summer between the big teams.”
For Parkinson, it is clear that this is “all about money and it’s not helping club players. All he’s doing for club players is giving them three extra weeks.”
He further noted Duffy’s claim that the new structure would mean every county apart from the last four would be finished by the end of the July. In response to that, Parkinson pointed out the usual playing of the All-Ireland quarter-finals on the August bank-holiday weekend meant that was basically the case already.
And, he concluded, the current system was basically a mess and that Páraic Duffy’s proposals do not fix it.
The logic of this conclusion is hard to escape. But the thing is that it is not just that the proposal does not fix the fixture crisis for club players. It doesn’t even begin to address basic problems at inter-county level. In this respect, nothing is included which sorts out the ludicrous fixture congestion of the late winter and early spring where — for example — university-based players are flogged and flogged again, dragged between college and county.
For all their obvious success as an organisation that brings in cash, the inter-county Gaelic Players’ Association have done nothing meaningful to address this basic welfare issue.
Indeed, it has conspired in the evolution of a system that means its own members are trapped in a never-ending season.
And at the same time club players are left with no clarity around their own calendar.
In this context, how exactly could the Club Players’ Association have given their stamp of approval to what Páraic Duffy proposes?
To do so would have meant they themselves were conspiring in buttressing a calendar of play which treats club players with contempt.
Naturally, the usual suspects have been out to condemn the Club Players’ Association for the stand that they have taken.
Their condemnation is watery, however, and the essential points raised by the Club Players’ Association remain unanswered.
The recent manoeuvres (endorsement by Central Council and the splitting of proposed changes across three motions) by the GAA hierarchy in advance of the Annual Congress at the end of February are evidence of a deep commitment to deliver Duffy’s proposals.
The fact it is also now proposed that the championship changes would only represent temporary change rather than something more long-term throws up another point.
It reveals that the GAA hierarchy are extremely fearful the motions will not receive the necessary support and they intend to run on the principle of ‘let’s give it a try even though we know it’s not great’.
Paradoxically, of course, calling for temporary change actually underlines the flaws of Duffy’s proposals and in the process supports the position of the Club Players’ Association that this change is not nearly radical enough.
Páraic Duffy is sufficiently in touch with the reality of life for club players all across Ireland to know that he is not doing enough for them. The logic of what he is now proposing appears to be that — in the context of the restraints of his power — this is the best he can do.
Unfortunately, that is no foundation for change, and offers no evidence of the type of vision required to take on the vested interests who are obstructing the basic things that need to be done for club players.
What will actually be achieved if the new championship structure is accepted is threefold:
The gross mismatches of early summer where teams from Divisions 3 and 4 get routinely wiped out by the top teams will be balanced out by more competitive, high-profile games in the height of summer.
The ongoing slide in attendances for the football championship will be reversed.
More revenue will flow into Croke Park.
When it comes down to it, the supposed ‘fixing of the fixtures’ for club players looks like a mere bolt-on.
The big issue at Congress this year will be the discussion over Duffy’s proposed championship changes. There will be huge pressure put on delegates to row in behind the proposal — after all, there is an awful lot of political capital invested in this change.
And yet it is very hard to see how any delegate of any county who wishes to vindicate the rights of club players can support this change as being anything approaching what is needed.
Put simply, for all that it portrays itself as a slick, professional administration, Croke Park has no real plan for its club players.