This month marks year nine of Páraic Duffy’s term as GAA director general.
On this week, the most important of his tenure, he could be forgiven for feeling that he’s been here before.
The burnout and club fixtures paper he presented to Congress in Tullow this Saturday is not all that far removed from what he put in front of delegates at Special Congress in January 2008.
Then the GAA player welfare manager, he warned of “the emergence of a training-based, rather than a playing-based culture within games, the effect of which has been to discourage players from getting involved in the GAA”.
Duffy also mentioned the discord at club level: “Many club players and officials are of the view that the balance between club and inter-county fixtures has, in fact, become a serious imbalance that favours inter-county competition to the detriment of the club game.”
Eight years on and the same malaise continues to corrode the GAA. That ain’t on for Duffy. He led the horse to water. If he’s been guilty of anything, it’s been a lack of executive power but then that’s down to the brief he was given. For too long he has had to rely on the goodwill of county boards to rein in their managers and insist that they release unused county players for club games and abide by the training restrictions in November and December.
The self-interests of such parties are rightly challenged by the proposals in Duffy’s latest discussion paper as he sets out new competition, schedule and squad parameters.
In 2008, he proposed the minor and U21 inter-county championships be replaced by an U19 grade for two years. It was defeated but the prospects of his plans to reduce the minor grade at inter-county level from U18 to U17 are good. They make a whole lot of sense too, particularly given the pressures adolescents face juggling their football and hurling commitments with final secondary school examinations.
Replacing the U21 All-Ireland football championship with an U20 development championship that would run concurrently with the senior competition has a fair chance of passing although it’s scary to think Duffy initially wanted a platform between minor and senior scrapped entirely.
Eight years ago, Duffy succeeded in having a motion passed that attached the facility of extra-time to all championship matches up to provincial and All-Ireland semi-finals. That was later changed by Congress in 2011 as provincial councils felt the impact in their pockets but was amended again and now the motion pertains to the facility of two extra 10-minutes periods to all SFC and SHC games bar provincial and All-Ireland finals.
Clubs will be given more certainty about the inter-county championship calendar. It’s a move provincial councils are wary of but outside of Munster and Ulster the days of money-spinning replays (apart from finals) have become a thing of the past.
Duffy also hopes clubs can benefit from more access to their best players. In 2008, his call for the limitation of match panels to 30 for championship and 24 for the league was backed. Now he wants any player not chosen in 26-man league and championship match-day panels to be made available to their clubs.
In 2008, Duffy convinced delegates to back the idea of All-Ireland quarter-finals being completed by the August Bank Holiday, which again has been changed slightly in the football championship to incorporate a more streamlined qualifier system. He has now brought that scheduling plan on further by calling for each of the All-Ireland finals to be brought forward by two weeks. It’s a vital component of the proposed calendar year, which he hopes to see through at Central Council in the coming months.
The parallels between 2008 and now continue in the measures Duffy will bring to Central Council. In ’08, his recommendation that the National League be completed over eight weekends was endorsed. That was again altered with the introduction of Division 1 semi-finals in football but he is now recommending they be scrapped and proposes to increase the number of two-code league weekends.
The implementation of the calendar year would cap his efforts in the areas of player and club welfare.,but this week will go a long way to cementing his legacy as Ard Stiúrthóir. He won’t look at it that way but making the GAA a fairer organisation would be a fitting if not the most fitting homage to his term of office thus far.
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