Last week, the Irish Independent reported four counties — Armagh and Laois footballers and Waterford and Wexford’s hurlers — are to lose home advantage for their opening 2019 Allianz League home game after breaching the pre-Championship training camp rule, writes John Fogarty.
Rule 6.22 (b), which states counties can only organise training weekends post-National League in the 10 days before a Championship game or the 17 days prior to an All-Ireland final, was introduced to give clubs more access to their inter-county players.
It forms part of a suite of rules that have attempted to even up the balance between the club and county scene. The message being sent out, the fact these counties are set to lose five-figure sums in gate receipts, is that the GAA intends to implement the rulebook.
That wasn’t the case eight years ago when Cavan breached the collective training ban on the 3G pitch adjacent to Kingspan Breffni Park.
The rule was amended in 2012 to a more realistic, phased format so that teams exiting in June weren’t twiddling their thumbs until December but the anecdotal evidence of it being flouted continues to mount.
The GAA have been known to make exemptions for charity matches.
Dublin would have had to get a pass from Croke Park for the recent TG4 Underdogs game as they and Meath would for the Seán Cox fundraiser in Páirc Tailteann on December 16, which is 13 days earlier than they are permitted to return. For the record, the GAA rulebook defines collective training as: “where one or more player(s) is/are required to be at a specific place at a specific time on a specific date” and the ban also applies to matches.
In Sydney on Sunday, Galway and Kilkenny faced off in a GAA-endorsed game, Galway back 49 days earlier than they would usually be allowed and Kilkenny 21.
“We’re looking forward to 2019 — this win has been a good start for us,” remarked Galway manager Micheál Donoghue afterwards.
“They’ve spent some time together and have a few more days now to enjoy Sydney,” said Brian Cody. “And also the competitive aspect of the game will stand to them.”
Their reactions were similar to Clare co-manager Gerry O’Connor this past summer when he recalled the value of the Super 11s in the close season last year: “Some teams were using it as a close out to the season but we used it as a way to start the season. We inadvertently stumbled across a training camp for ourselves just to kickstart the whole season.”
Staged on November 19 and again backed by the GAA, Clare returned to training 13 days earlier. It was the same for Dublin while that year’s All-Ireland finalists Galway and Tipperary were out of the traps 41 days early.
As defending champions, Clare will be in Fenway Park again this weekend and enjoy a jump start of 21 days as will Cork and Limerick. Wexford come back 14 days earlier than their scheduled 2019 commence date.
The GPA are the main drivers behind the Super 11s, which is now in its third year.
The same GPA who last week complained about the Leinster Council starting the O’Byrne and Walsh Cups in December.
“The GPA are concerned with the precedent being set in scheduling early-season games in the previous calendar year (this also happened last year),” their statement read. “A number of squads have expressed concern to the GPA with the fixtures being played in December.”
The pre-Christmas dates for those competitions certainly fly in the face of the strides made in the area of player welfare, but then the GPA’s sanctioned flouting of the close-season suggests they don’t truly understand the importance of rest. With the demands on their members so emphasised in the recently-published ESRI report, their hand is strengthened at the negotiating table yet they should look at what they too are asking of them.
Surveyed, 40% of players told the ESRI that they had no time off, largely because no off-season exists. The report’s findings, which GAA director general Tom Ryan described as “very sobering”, stressing that the organisation has to ask itself if players devoting 31 hours a week to the sport is right, should serve as a shot across the bow.
But when the GAA itself has drawn a coach and four (the expression John Prenty used in 2009 to describe the breaches of the training ban) through its own rules by making exceptions like Sunday’s game in Sydney and this weekend’s forthcoming games in Boston how can it expect others not to?
Armagh, Laois, Waterford and Wexford can count themselves unlucky when the culture of bending rules is widespread. They are to be made an example of but it’s not as if a great example is being set for them.
Does the Rules Series have a future?
The GAA and AFL meet in Sydney to discuss the future of the International Rules this week but the intense recruitment of Irish players by AFL clubs may come up under Any Other Business?
In GAA president John Horan and director general Tom Ryan, the AFL’s chief executive Gillon McLachlan and Co are presented with new faces across the table as much as director of player, club and games administration Feargal McGill and director of games development Pat Daly ensure there is continuity.
It’s not certain just how committed Horan and Ryan are to the International Series concept — the decision not to stage a series this year raises questions.
What is certain is that they can’t be as much fans of it as Páraic Duffy was, he and McLachlan having also enjoyed an excellent working relationship.
Twelve months on from the two-test series in Adelaide and Perth, the same scepticism about the AFL’s modus operandi regarding the series remains. We’re not convinced they are in it for any better reason than to promote their own game, as they seek to do in the US using Irish ex-pats as a vehicle to build the crowd, as they attempted to do in Perth.
Even if their games are growing closer in identity, the GAA’s relationship with the AFL shouldn’t feel cosy when their clubs have been drafting the cream of young Gaelic football talent at an unprecedented rate.
The GAA’s hands are undoubtedly tied on the matter but being series bedfellows with them doesn’t seem to be helping much when it was once argued by Croke Park officials that it at least kept the communication channels open.
Kingdom fixture angst a concern
If the words of Club Players Association chairman Micheál Briody last week about how the GAA’s difficulty with fixtures could be soccer’s opportunity wasn’t cause for alarm, then there was another reminder on Sunday about how dysfunctional the calendar is for players.
And again it came from Kerry in the form of Paul Murphy.
He posted on Twitter: “Won our East Kerry Qtr Final on Friday, our 1st match in 8 weeks. Despite the intercounty year finishing on Aug 4th, one of the semi finals might not be played before 16th or 23rd December (5/6 wks from now). Plenty of available dates weren’t used. Madness”
Murphy’s fellow defender Killian Young had expressed his frustrations about fixtures on the social media platform early last month: “Went out of the county championship last Sunday which was disappointing.
“Now we move onto the next competition, the South Kerry Championship. QF’s are set for 3/4th & 10/11th Nov. That’s a 5/6 week wait.
“While we wait, we must continue to train over these weeks to try stay fit and sharp as we adjust to winter conditions once again. The finalists will end up playing in Dec(ember).
“I really feel the younger generation are going to stop playing this game.
“A Jan(uary) to Dec(ember) season is madness.”
From how they pick their senior county captains to the end of year divisional championships, there are few more traditional counties than Kerry but the idea that these vestiges are age-honoured is growing old.
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