Just who did they speak to when they decided who they were speaking for?

Last Thursday, for the second time in less than a fortnight, a major announcement was issued from Croke Park.

The first was the new agreement with the GPA. Personally, I didn’t have an issue with what was in it. 

Inter-county games and players raise the finances to help sustain the rest of the organisation – that third club pitch, that new clubhouse.

One Ulster columnist, in an attempt to be more for GAA than us, begrudged a county player getting expenses for making a commute from Dublin when a club player making a similar journey wouldn’t get any recompense. 

In his eyes it just didn’t wash, the argument a county player helping generate big money for the rest of the association should at least not be out of pocket himself.

As the rest of us know, the plight of the club player is fixtures, not finance. 

He’ll willingly fork out money to travel and play his sport, just like virtually every person participating in sport in this country. 

He realises no club player is being exploited financially by the GAA whereas a county player not even receiving expenses would be.

What’s made us more wary about that GAA-GPA deal though was Paraic Duffy’s new championship proposals. 

Speaking to this paper’s Brendan O’Brien only hours after the director-general’s document was unveiled, the GPA’s spokesperson, Sean Potts, said his organisation “would broadly and warmly welcome” the proposals.

Again, just who did they speak to when they decided who they were speaking for?

It’s hard to think a Longford footballer would be in favour of them. Or one from Louth. Or Limerick. Or Laois. Or Leitrim. And that’s just the counties beginning with L. 

All that‘s in this for them is that any draw against a big gun in the qualifiers would be at home. 

In the meantime, the Kerrys, Mayos, and Dublins are virtually guaranteed more big games.

Now, to repeat, we’re not cynics. The GPA-GAA deal was fine with us for what was in it. But you now have to wonder: was there another agreement between both parties that the extra finance for the GPA would be generated by a new championship format for the top eight which the GPA hierarchy would in turn endorse, without even consulting its membership?

It certainly looks that way. And that certainly doesn’t look good. It makes both parties appear everything its critics claim them to be – more about money and the elite.

Just what else is Paraic Duffy’s motive with these proposals? For sure, it would provide some more cracking games. 

This column has long advocated late summer games in the likes of Fitzgerald Stadium for the hosting teams like Mayo and Dublin. 

But again, how does it develop those who need most developing, the mid-tier and lower-tier counties?

If any teams need a round-robin, guaranteed series of games in the championship, it’s them. 

The likes of Kerry and Mayo already enjoy a serious cumulative advantage over them from over the decades by training into late July on the hard ground while a Clare is nearly always finished much earlier. Duffy’s proposals only further compounds that advantage. 

It’s like the Kerry hurlers, even in a great season, playing all their hurling in 100 days but still finished this year in May.

Duffy claims this document is good for the club and the club player because 24 will be out of the All Ireland series before this round-robin format kicks in. 

As if that’s a good thing, that Louth get to run off their championship early. 

The problem for counties like Louth and Longford and Leitrim is that their clubs have their county players for too much of the summer. 

They’re finished with the county too early as is. Meanwhile the club player in Donegal and Dublin isn’t really helped a lot by this; what one of them might gain in being out two weeks earlier than normal, the other could be waiting around for championship even longer than he already is. Potts and the GPA are right to think anything new would be anything better. 

But by accepting this they’re delaying and wasting the opportunity for what would be significantly better.

Duffy’s proposal still does not address how long – too long – the season is and how mentally draining that is on the players. 

Watching Mayo last Saturday in Croke Park, winning a sixth consecutive All Ireland quarter-final in August, we thought back to their opening league game against Cork in Páirc Uí Rinn, a game Tomás Ó Sé has often referenced for how casual some of their big players were during the warm-up. 

There was a reason they were casual. It was still only January. January! What were they doing playing in January?!

It’s all about fixtures. Too many for inter-county players, especially students, in January and February. 

Too few ones in the championship in May to whet the appetite of neutrals. Too few in July for the mid-tier counties. Too few that a club player in Cork can definitively know he’s out playing in championship weeks in advance.

Duffy’s proposals does little to address those difficulties.

With a bit of imagination, that can be resolved.

By all means keep the provincial championships in some format – Eamon O’Hara doesn’t deserve for some young fella looking at the pride and joy that’s his 2007 Connacht medal and say ‘What was the Connacht championship, Granddad?” – but scrap the pre-season provincial competitions. 

Maybe even scrap the national league and have provincial leagues instead to keep the coffers of the provincial councils happy.

Don’t make it about club versus county when the two can co-exist. 

Make it about club versus provincial championship, or club versus national league if needs be, so long as the club and county player get enough meaningful games from mid-March to October.

It is only a matter of time before some body representing the club player is formed. 

The GPA needs to recognise that and possibly even represent it, otherwise it will be seen as an enemy, when it should be its biggest ally.

In the meantime, it must be more of an ally to its current members from the mid-tier and lower-tier counties. 

Consult them on Duffy’s proposals, for starters.


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