KIERAN SHANNON: Hurling holding out for a hero in Congress fallout

There is nothing wrong in thinking the Super 8 will be great – and that it should still not have got through.

Just because it was a better alternative to what’s there now didn’t mean there wasn’t a better and more equitable alternative if Paraic Duffy had heeded the CPA’s advice and waited some more.

They wanted more collaboration, consultation, consensus. Instead in the aftermath of last weekend we’re left with a sense of disgruntlement, disharmony, and everyone on about a disconnect.

Some of the criticisms of the Super 8 proposal are shrill and exaggerated. 

For instance, outside of Dublin and Kerry, who else is going to be a permanent member of the Super 8? This time six years ago, Mayo and Donegal were in no better place than Meath, Derry, Laois, or Galway. 

They were both in a far worse place than Kildare. Do you think Monaghan are feeling sorry for themselves after the Super 8 has been passed, or do you think they’re relishing a crack at making and playing in it? 

More than half the country could be Monaghan and should be thinking like Monaghan.

Still, many of the concerns regarding the Super 8 are valid. In pushing on with democracy, GAA style, Duffy and Congress perpetuated instead of lessened the perception and feeling of a sporting organisation at odds with itself.

To understand why the director general of the GAA pushed on with his proposals regardless of the urging of the likes of Liam Griffin in the CPA, you need to realise both men are coming from two completely different perspectives.

On the very first couple of pages of his outline as to why the GAA should accept his proposals, Duffy made it clear his preference and recommendation was for reform “on an incremental basis”. 

That “immediate, radical and comprehensive changes” were “quite limited”. 

And that a “modest medium-term adjustment to the championship format” would work best. It was from a man very – sometimes too – familiar with the workings of the GAA and Congress. 

A GAA politician who, for all his passion for the association, had been conditioned to think more like a politician.

Griffin thinks more like a businessman, being a highly successful one. In his world, strategy and long-term planning is king and should override short-term, expedient measures.

Back in 2015, this column interviewed him in his groundbreaking Monart Spa Hotel about how this country and government conducted its affairs. 

“There’s no scenario planning,” he bemoaned. 

“Where will be in 10 years? The way this country is run, we just look at how do we get out of this hole today? So we dig another one for tomorrow to climb into.” 

He could just as easily have been talking about the GAA. The Super 8 is a classic case in point. As the former MIT professor Michael Hammer put it in his seminal Harvard Business Review article ‘Don’t Automate d1 Obliterate’: “We have institutionalised the ad-hoc and enshrined the temporary.”

Duffy can claim it’s only for three years but in the meantime everything and everyone will have to work around it. 

Measures could be put in place to fit around it and we’ll forever be stuck with them, even when the rationale for their existence may have been forgotten or no longer apply.

It’s because of this piecemeal GAA mindset we now have a situation where next year there’ll be an U20 championship for football – because Congress 2016 voted for it – and an U21 championship for hurling – because Congress 2017 rejected the notion of an U20 championship. Great joined-up thinking there.

One of Duffy’s most prominent and persuasive supporters at Congress was Jarlath Burns. 

No one has better exposed the inadequacies of the GPA on the issue of the Super 8 than Burns but his criticisms of the CPA haven’t been quite as comprehensive or convincing.

In an interview with Colm Parkinson on’s GAA Hour, Burns asked why did the CPA not put forward its own proposals in advance of Congress? 

The answer was contained in something he said earlier in the discussion. 

As he pointed out, Aoghán Ó Fearghaíl, upon assuming the presidency, invited all units of the GAA to forward on their proposals for a better football championship. Eighteen different proposals were forwarded to the Congress motions committee last year. 

All died a death, never even seeing the 2016 Clár. It was from the debris of those proposals Duffy was charged with the task of surveying through the wreckage and coming up with his own proposals for Central Council.

Why did all 18 proposals die a death? Because all 18 were done independently of one another. There was no collaboration, consultation, consensus with anyone else. 

The GPA were one of those 18 units who fired on their own proposals, oblivious to anyone else’s. The CPA couldn’t make the same mistake in 2017.

You look at what Laois did. They came up with their own championship proposal for this year’s Congress, following the model pathway the GAA and Congress champion. 

By calling for three round-robin qualifier games apiece for the 16 teams that failed to reach their provincial championship semi-finals, they were offering a lot of what players from the so-called ‘weaker’ counties were looking for - more games for them instead of the ‘elite’. 

Yet did you read or know anything about it? Do you think the GPA even polled their players for their views on it? The Laois motion didn’t have a chance.

When you’re looking for a change as fundamental and vital as championship reform, you don’t just send a proposal to Croke Park. You sit down and team up with Croke Park.

Liam Griffin understands that. He’s not just some idealist innocently naive to the workings of the GAA and Congress. In the mid-noughties he served as a member of the Hurling Development Committee. It not only had high-profile names like himself, Ger Loughnane and Nickey English. 

It had high-powered administrators on board like Pat Daly and Pat Dunny, and the blessing of its founder, then president Seán Kelly, and because of that it was able to usher in something radical by GAA standards, a three-tier championship which has largely been proven successful.

The current HDC, chaired by former Tipperary coach Paudie O’Neill, will be making proposals to Central Council later in the year. 

Its way of thinking is particularly holistic and long term and will be concerned with much more than just a better championship structure for the sport.

The hurling community has been particularly outraged by the developments at Congress last weekend. 

Even someone as measured as Anthony Daly of this parish tweeted was the Gaelic Athletic Association now the Gaelic Football Association, such would be the ratio of high-profile football games in July and August in 2018 compared to hurling over the same period.

The GAA is not the GFA. When hurling had the better-structured championship and the greater number of high-profile games from 1997 to 2000, that didn’t mean the GAA was neglectful of football; it was more a case that football had been negligent in attending to itself and it was up to football itself to respond, which it did, through the FDC and it proposals that ultimately led to the introduction of the then-ingenious qualifier system.

What is fair to wonder though is the Gaelic Players Association really the Gaelic Footballers Association?

At least it has previously drawn up its own proposals for a restructured football championship and Dermot Earley since his appointment as chief executive has repeatedly voiced his disapproval of the current football structures. 

But when have you heard anyone from the GPA – even its hurlers – demand a change to the structure of the hurling championship?

The GPA and CPA should learn from the fallout of Congress 2017 and seek an audience and even a partnership with the HDC, and then by extension, Croke Park.

Hurling, for the sake of promoting the sport, needs it.

The GAA, for the sake of greater harmony, needs it.


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