JOHN FOGARTY: So the GPA’s true colours are what, exactly?

Considering their flimsy challenge to the All-Ireland round-robin series, there will be questions asked about the GPA’s intentions, writes John Fogarty.

You know something isn’t right when a body often criticised for being elitist and Dublin-centric, the GPA, are labelling the GAA’s All-Ireland SFC proposal as exactly that.

GPA chief executive Dermot Earley had no difficulty in saying as much after Saturday’s decision by Congress to endorse the “Super 8”, although he hadn’t shown the same conviction earlier when addressing delegates.

Earley is an affable, articulate and capable man but regardless of the integrity of the message his rehashing of the GPA’s press release paled in delivery to the likes of playing rules committee chairman Jarlath Burns’ opposing stance.

It put the tin hat on what looked and felt like a PR failure for the GPA. After the GAA had shot down their football championship blueprint prior to Congress last year, the official players’ body were always going to oppose the Super 8. But why did they leave it as late as the eve of Congress to announce their stance when most — if not all — delegates had either been mandated or made their minds up on the “Super 8” proposal?

Obviously, they had to canvass opinion from the various panels but it could have been done so much earlier. The poor timing also contradicted Earley’s statement at his unveiling as chief executive last month when he stated the championship structure was a top priority.

The official reason for the delay was that they had to wait for the official wording of the motion before they could put the question to their members.

Of course, Earley is only in the role vacated by Dessie Farrell a wet weekend so that would have had an impact too but things have been moving far too slowly in the GPA. At last year’s Congress, Earley said a bloody but unbowed GPA would return with a new SFC proposal but there has been no sign of those. An alternative to the “Super 8” sure would have been helpful in their attempt to defeat it.

Naturally, considering their flimsy challenge to the All-Ireland round-robin series, there will be questions asked about the GPA’s intentions. Eight extra games will increase the GAA’s commercial revenue of which they are entitled to a 15% share. Their stance came days after it was revealed they plan to hold their own version of the Boston Tea Party in April where they are charging as much as $50,000 a table at an “Inaugural Boston Friends of the GPA Dinner”.

Speaking to Matt Cooper on Today FM on Friday, Earley repeated his concern that the GPA aren’t getting their message across: “A challenge for me is to communicate what the GPA do for players to the wider GAA audience because I do feel that they don’t understand fully.”

Last month, he said: “They (the public) might just see the funding we receive and they’re possibly critical of that without realising where exactly that funding goes.”

The “disconnect” he spoke of on Saturday between administration and inter-county players is just as prevalent between the organisation and the public. Lavish fundraising events across the Atlantic, they claim, are necessary but the optics aren’t wholesome.

Last July, the GPA sealed a lucrative three-year agreement with the GAA that they could only have dreamed of in their infancy. But the question is this — have they become so subsumed that they have been killed with kindness? Certainly, it’s the belief among some Croke Park officials that they have bought obedience with one individual suggesting they are now just another GAA committee. Since their initial official recognition agreement with the GAA in 2010, aside from the familiar language used in aggrieved county panel’s statements the players’ group haven’t shown the slightest inclination that they are prepared to bite the hand that feeds them.

The GPA have come a long way since a leading figure of theirs was prepared to go toe-to-toe with a newspaper’s sports editor. They’ve come a long way, almost 10 years in fact, since they detailed a former inter-county footballer and acquaintance of this writer to try and convince me to spike a story about irregularities in their ballot to strike (in public, the claim was deemed “spurious” by former CEO Farrell). They’ve come a long way since the day that story was published when a prominent GPA member said it would have negative repercussions for me in gaining interviews with players.

But after Saturday’s wishy-washy stance on the “Super 8” it’s difficult not to be convinced that the GPA still have a long way to go. Do they now turn the other cheek having done nothing about last year’s snub or do they agitate against a competition format that Earley has claimed himself discriminates? Earley says he is confident the GPA will “stand up fairly well for ourselves”.

The stage is theirs to demonstrate they are more about defending the discriminated than they are desiring the dollar.

CCCC have set a benchmark with Kerry bans

So the GPA’s true colours are what, exactly?

Kerry’s last couple of results don’t do much for our assertion after the Donegal game that they appear to be the greatest threat to Dublin’s dominance. We won’t go changing our minds now or anytime soon but Éamonn Fitzmaurice won’t be too happy with facts like back-to-back black cards for Jack Barry and their fading chances of an Allianz League final appearance, which would only cut the yawning gap to their Munster semi-final from 10 weeks to nine but at least be something.

Sunday’s loss to Monaghan in Killarney brought to an end a disappointing few days for Fitzmaurice, who on Friday questioned the Central Competitions Control Committee’s (CCCC) decision to hand down proposed retrospective bans to Peter Crowley and Donnchadh Walsh arising from the melee at the end of the defeat to Mayo.

Danny Kirby was also cited after Tom Parsons had been shown a red card. All but Crowley had their suspensions upheld. Witnessing the row in person, it seemed nothing to get too worked up about and a second viewing of it last week did little to change that assessment.

Clearly, the CCCC are keen to set out their stall for the year and if that’s the case, they are going to be busy in the months ahead.

As we wrote last month, the GAA had an excellent disciplinary year in 2016 but this CCCC has fallen down before in trying to set an example — remember the Tiernan McCann case in 2015? Taking such a dim view of the Kerry-Mayo flare-up, they have set a benchmark for themselves but can they live up to it?

Extra-time needs tidying up

So the GPA’s true colours are what, exactly?

So it’s goodbye to September (for now) and goodbye to the replay for the most part as the GAA have chosen to condense its All-Ireland senior championships from next year. As all games but finals will carry the facility of extra time, we’re going to become a lot more accustomed to two additional 10-minute periods.

As that’s the case, may the Central Council, the playing rules committee or a club next year propose some changes to extra time, which is preposterously regarded as a new game? Can those teams who have had players sent off in regulation time be prevented from restoring themselves to 15 players? It remains one of the most inane rules, made more absurd by the fact yellow and black cards are still active in extra time.

Extra time is a grey area that continues to present problems. On Saturday, a motion was passed ensuring a player suspended for a match was also banned for any extra time that may be played. It had us thinking about the 2014 All-Ireland SHC qualifier replay against Wexford when Clare enquired with officials about suspended Podge Collins’ availability in injury time. They were told he wasn’t permitted as he hadn’t — and couldn’t — be named in the match-day panel. That instruction doesn’t seem to tally with the recent rule change.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie 

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