JOHN FOGARTY: Have mercy on the programme sellers

Fake news was rife in the GAA again this past weekend. As the stakes rose in the league, what several managers were prepared to release for information purposes was a weak variation of the truth.

Some of it was simply unfortunate. Injuries, especially in a denser schedule than usual, often crop up between the time managers submit the teams for the match programme midweek and throw-in. 

There’s also the well-established fact that managers aren’t in a position to provide their team at that stage when they haven’t even chosen it or informed their players, so what is transmitted to the printers might be guesswork.

But not all of them are so helpless. On Sunday, the PA in Brewster Park informed spectators that he couldn’t announce the Armagh team to face Division 3 promotion rivals Fermanagh as they refused to give it to him. 

It turned out there were three changes to the side in the match programme, which would have been produced by Fermanagh.

Donegal mightn’t have been as petty as that but the team that started against Monaghan in Clones showed five changes to the one that had been circulated prior to the match and shown in the programme, again the responsibility of the home side to produce. 

And what about Tyrone, whose starting team was completely different to the one that was published in the match programme in Castlebar? 

The 15 Tyrone announced on Friday was actually the 15 that began the game but by that stage the programme had gone to print. The Mayo team, which regularly has supporters taking pens to their programmes, showed three changes.

Dublin are now in the habit of announcing their teams on Saturdays, although this is rarely their actual starting line-up. Against Galway, there were four late personnel switches. Eleventh-hour Dublin changes are nothing new although more of them seem to happen away from Croke Park. Against Mayo in Castlebar last month, there were also four alterations to the announced team. 

In the win over Tyrone in Healy Park a couple of weeks before, there were three. Contrast that to their three home games when they made no changes against Donegal and just one against both Kildare and Kerry.

It’s obvious Dublin regard giving an accurate starting team to their opponents as self-defeating. It’s understandable that they would be disinclined to give away such key intel — Jim Gavin is the type of manager who, if it was left to him, wouldn’t tell Dublin’s opponents the throw-in time. And as we have so often seen what All-Ireland champions do is parroted across the country. Cavan, another example, made two changes prior to throw-in in Hyde Park on Sunday.

But the practice sure makes a hames of match programmes, which have hardly moved with the times, let’s be honest. 

The 1-3-3-2-3-3 format, for one, is all but obsolete, basically the standing positions of each player at throw-in and something this newspaper has attempted to move away from in a bid to reflect how formations have changed in Gaelic football and hurling.

The phrase ‘dummy team’ is no longer appropriate to describe the subterfuge that is going on. What was mildly described as ‘silly beggars’ in the days of Ger Loughnane, Justin McCarthy and Conor Counihan is now blatant deception.

The GAA have left themselves open up to this behaviour. At least in the Championship they have a rule prohibiting late changes to the announced squad. 

You can also be certain that the player named to wear the No.15 jersey will be wearing it on matchday. That’s not to say he will wear it on the field — as we know by now, there is nothing to stop a manager announcing a fake side, or force him to announce one at all. 

But at least there are boundaries. The league, on the other hand, is the wild west.

Unlike payments to managers, the answer won’t come from a culture change. 

Beleaguered county PROs will testify to that. Years ago, the Waterford executive pleaded with former senior hurling manager Justin McCarthy to stop his practice of announcing dummy teams during the league as match programme sales were suffering. He carried on regardless. 

Derek McGrath has been in the habit of it too of late, three changes against Cork followed by eight in the home win over Clare.

The answer comes in the form of a rule: non-negotiable matchday squad lists announced in time for match programme publication purposes and non-negotiable starting teams released an hour before throw-in. Issue squad numbers and provide followers with something they can trust.

Team announcements used to be the infallible information jewels in the build-up to matches. Putting faith in them now is folly.

At a time when there is little reliability in the way of a fixtures calendar, a move towards ensuring some dependability in promoting inter-county Gaelic games can’t come soon enough.

Carlow can rise higher

Just over five years ago, then Carlow chairman Michael Meaney was bemoaning the fact the Leinster U21 football championship wasn’t seeded. 

His comments followed the county’s 37-point humiliation to Dublin in the competition when they managed just two points to the opposition’s 4-27.

Things improved, albeit marginally, a year later when the deficit was reduced to 31 (2-28 to 0-3) but the reality hadn’t changed. Dublin were otherworldly. 

Of the senior team that secured promotion from Division 4 in Antrim on Sunday, midfielder Seán Murphy and forward Daragh O’Brien were survivors of those harrowing defeats. 

We don’t use the word ‘survivors’ loosely: those type of results would be enough to turn many off playing for the county and maybe the sport.

Dublin still live in another universe but what Carlow’s achievement has demonstrated is that not every success has to be measured in steps up the Hogan Stand in September. 

As Brendan Murphy stated, promotion to Division 3 was like an All-Ireland title to them.

One of the refreshing elements about Carlow’s rise under Turlough O’Brien these last 12 months or so has been their openness. Anybody following them on social media on Sunday would have appreciated just how much the ascension meant to them.

 As veteran Daniel St Ledger posted about his long-awaited accomplishment, “11th time’s the charm”.

Their reaction to their sixth win of the campaign had us wondering just how crazy they would go were they to win a second-tier championship. The idea of breaking up the Sam Maguire Cup is something the management and the players are wholly against but wouldn’t the championship equivalent of winning Division 3 and 4 be something even more worthy of a toast?

GAA and snow punish players

Emlyn Mulligan and Derek Maguire were two players who voiced their displeasure about games being rescheduled for yesterday before theirs was postponed again but you can assume there were plenty more discommoded by the decisions.

Mulligan tweeted on Sunday: “The issue is that players don’t have a say. I’m working tomorrow. We’re amateurs at the end of the day and have lives outside football…”

Louth’s Maguire followed up about their game against Meath being moved back 24 hours prior to it also being postponed a second time: “Unfortunately we don’t all get bank holidays off and still no confirmation that our league game is 100% going ahead tomorrow! @officialgaa any confirmation our game is on so I can book off work?”

The GPA’s voice was heard last night and at a time like this, it is right it should be heard, even though it was perhaps surprising to hear it given they now hold a subsumed relationship with the GAA. But it was right that they express concern on behalf of those who would have had to take time off work at such short notice on a Bank Holiday when for some there is an incentive to work.

Establishment types will defend the GAA and point out they had no answer to Mother Nature. 

Of course they didn’t. For one, they were right to postpone the Limerick-Clare Division 1 hurling quarter-final on Sunday even if the weather improved there.

However, in attempting to contract the inter-county season they filled to the brim with fixtures two of the most unreliable months, so they were almost asking for trouble. 

The weather played the lead role in three competitions finishing two weeks late but the GAA played a part too.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie


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