JOHN FOGARTY: Club leg-up smacks of elitism

Milford & Cork camogie star Anna Geary yesterday honoured at #TheToughest club player awards. Voted by national and regional GAA media, the players were selected based on their overall performances throughout in the 2014/15 club season.

A former colleague was fond of the phrase "slowly, slowly catchy monkey", while another preferred "the urgency of honey", writes John Fogarty.

We mention them now because they succinctly describe the polar reactions to the release of the GAA’s calendar year document. The more vocal, those not au fait with the politics of the organisation, were disappointed the proposals didn’t go far enough. That viewpoint is also ignorant of just how the structure of the season must be disassembled brick by brick, not bulldozed.

It also disregards what GAA president Liam O’Neill said in October that “this will be only the start of radical change”.

The timing of, if not the pre-season competitions themselves, will be next for the scrapheap followed by an alteration to National League schedule. Only then can the GAA begin to consider a shake-up of the Championship and moving away from a provincial structure won’t be done lightly, for obvious reasons.

When former GAA president Christy Cooney flew a kite about rezoning counties to different provincial-based conferences four years ago, Ulster secretary Danny Murphy put it best: “I think we can have a look at it but the geographical infrastructure that exists in each province at the moment would be difficult to tamper with.”

Any Championship without a provincial basis runs the danger of becoming a glorified league.

For the most part, the recommendations for a GAA calendar year are sound. Club games should be decided on the day but then so too should most Championship fixtures. An All-Ireland final replay should not be taking place three weeks after the drawn game. And, let’s be honest, bringing forward the All-Ireland finals by one week is no big deal.

We remain unsure about staging the All-Ireland club finals in December. Replacing them on St Patrick’s Day with league games involving the previous year’s All-Ireland champions is hardly like for like. Running off the provincial and All-Ireland series at the end of the year also deprives clubs of the delicious build-up to an All-Ireland semi-final that they find themselves suspended in over Christmas and most, if not all, of January.

Ask most people in places like Ardfert, Cappoquin and Moate ahead of this weekend’s games and they will tell you the last couple of months have been magical.

It’s been written before but what Seán Kelly did in officially establishing the All-Ireland club championships beyond senior level was a great service to the organisation.

If the calendar year workgroup are guilty of over-reaching it’s with their idea of staging provincial club draws in August so that All-Ireland semi-finalists can be identified and their counties afforded byes past the preliminary round stages.

Frankly, it smacks of elitism. They will argue differently, insisting it simply facilitates a smoother running of the provincial championships, but by creating a link between county success and clubs they are putting the best clubs in weaker counties at a disadvantage.

Let’s look at this practically: in football, 11 counties have reached the last four since 2005. Four of them — Armagh, Down, Kildare and Wexford — have appeared just once and in that time Meath have only reached that stage twice. Half a dozen have made it between three and eight times. So should the likes of Kerry, Cork, Dublin and Mayo be afforded the luxury of byes for their strongest clubs simply because they’re strong counties and/or are in weak provinces?

Over the same 10 years, nine counties have made the All-Ireland senior hurling semi-finals. Wexford last qualified in 2007. Are their county winners as well as Laois and Offaly going to lose out in the Leinster club championship purely for convenience’s sake?

It almost beggars belief that a workgroup with such committed and far-seeing GAA officials would propose something that entwines two largely autonomous competitions which should have nothing to do with each other apart from sharing players and a calendar.

By giving a leg-up to the clubs of stronger counties in their respective provinces, they will only serve to widen the divide between the haves and the have-nots when these recommendations are supposed to help the meeker in the GAA.

That’s not trying to catch a monkey; that’s trying to make a monkey out of you and me.

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Naming of dummy teams now a central issue

Watching Dublin in Navan on Saturday, it struck this writer Jim Gavin has yet to name a team this month. The question is will he name one at all this year? Will anybody come championship?

Next month, Congress will be asked to vote on a Central Council motion requiring counties to register their playing panels by 9am on the Thursday before a game. They need only release their team to the referee and committee-in-charge 20 minutes prior to throw-in.

It can be assumed this proposal will take the place of the current undermined match regulation, which states teams must be provided for the official programme and media four days before the match.

Gavin has made no secret of his preference for squad lists with teams being named on the day of the game.

As it goes, he releases his sides around 10pm on a Friday night but believing them is risky business just as it is for most teams these days when so much can happen between a Wednesday and a Sunday. Because of the penalties involved, we should be able to trust the squads released. It also complements the Hurling 2020 committee’s recommendation for Championship squad numbers.

But while the Central Council motion should go some way to eradicating dummy teams, does replacing inaccuracy and deception with vagueness really provide a solution to what is a serious promotion issue?

McGlinchey strikes right note

Is it any wonder Tom McGlinchey was at pains to play down the significance of Waterford’s McGrath Cup win over Cork on Sunday?

A first victory over the neighbours in over half a century is not to be sniffed at but then the paucity of the crowd there to witness it — 337 onlookers — said enough.

But if McGlinchey really wanted to put the result into context, he may have pointed to what Leitrim have done these past couple of Januarys only to fall flat on their faces thereafter.

Two Connacht League titles promised much but provided little platform in either league or Championship.

Aside from Cork missing some of their heavyweights, it should also be pointed out Waterford were permitted to return to collective training over three weeks earlier than their vanquished opponents.

Then there’s the small fact they’ve not yet claimed silverware. As if that would truly matter. Harsh? Hardly.

To be a party pooper, there must be a party to poop. Waterford’s real prizes, they know themselves, are months away.


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