LARRY RYAN: Could the club survive without the countyman?

Pic: Drinan

GAA club month is nearly over, a jamboree that chiefly involved dozens of articles bemoaning the lack of club activity. And a few club matches to take the bare look off things.

In those matches that did take place, there was an audit carried out far more pressing than the one on the scoreboard: how many countymen togged out?

And just when you thought you were out the gap, here’s one more attempt to tease out an age-old philosophical question: could we not just work away without the countyman?

That poser is ‘the toughest’ alright.

To spare us all the articles and chaos and uncertainty, to give lads a chance to book their holidays, is there any way they could play all the blessed matches without the countyman? Without all the countymen?

Would club championship matches be stripped of all relevance if there was no countyman present who might overshadow proceedings by suffering a twinge?

Has a club match really taken place if there wasn’t a countyman held scoreless from play — inevitably by another countyman — proving that one of them never gave a shite about the club anyway?

Would a club referee’s Sundays have any meaning without the opportunity to showcase his common sense by letting a countyman away with a yellow card?

Could the club survive without the countyman?

And would anyone go to a club match again if denied the opportunity to politely remind the opposition’s countyman of past failings and enquire why he wasn’t so sure of himself last year dealing with Richie Hogan/Seamus Callanan/Conor Lehane?

We must consider the countyman himself too in this unthinkable scenario.

As Mayo survivor of ’50 and ’51 Paddy Prendergast reminded us at the start of the National League, “it’s like hard labour in prison playing inter-county football at the moment.” The Sacrifices and The Demands and so on.

Is the countyman entitled to occasional parole, to his ‘release back to the club’, for good behaviour?

A chance to rediscover his confidence and his mojo playing against lads way off his standard. Maybe even a licence to kick the ball, if he’s a footballer, rather than circulate it.

Spared the opportunity to go back and tog as Clark Kent every now and again, would the countyman even have enough to do as Superman?

Well, we could give him all the Super 8s and round robins and back doors and side doors and second-tier competitions and Fitzgibbon Cups and even Railway Cups he can eat. We could lift the quotas for the cash cow and sell him to Sky and Eir and BT and RTÉ.

We could give him a 20-game season at his own standard and maybe even the odd week off to book his own holidays too.

Could the club survive without the countyman?

And then when he’s finished up as a countyman he could go back to the club where he started to give people fair opportunity to abuse him and wonder how that lad ever made the county.

There might even be something for everyone in this unthinkable scenario.

But it can never work, as we know. It would undermine the ‘bedrock of the GAA’, undermine it much more than running off its main competitions in a couple of weeks after a four-month break since the first round.

It would put an end to volunteerism overnight. Who would bother coaching young fellas if the cream would be whisked away to a higher level, we are asked, a question the soccer and rugby volunteers might be well placed to answer.

And it would be grossly unfair on the clubs supplying the countymen, even if clubs doing enough right, and with big enough numbers, to produce a few countymen, should be able to produce a few good clubmen too.

But no, there will be a revolution first, we are promised. The clubs will rise up and strike, to reclaim the calendar and the countymen.

But it mightn’t need Maggie Thatcher in Croker, where the money and the power lies, to break that strike.

Indeed any strike might look a lot like business as usual: the countyman playing away while the clubman sits idle. They could squeeze the countyman’s season more, and then send him straight back into action afterwards as a clubman.

But can they afford many months like the one gone, conceding the media to rugby, except for the articles grousing?

Could the club survive without the countyman?

Since there’s no easy answer, more likely we will muddle on with no great urgency, a tweak here, a game there. And the new summer soccer season will give the clubman yet another option.

“Clubs are dying on their feet,” said Michael Ryan, manager of St Mary’s, Clonmel and the Westmeath senior hurlers this week.

Maybe it needs an outside voice to inject a little urgency.

There’s this guy, Wayne Goldsmith, you wouldn’t mind seeing stand up on a butterbox at GAA Congress.

An Australian coach, he has worked with the Wallabies rugby team, Tennis Australia, USA Swimming, and the UK Sports Institute.

Not given to understatement, he says competitive sport is dying around the world.

“And in many places – particularly in rural and regional areas – it’s already dead.”

Numbers playing team sports are plummeting everywhere, as more people turn to jogging and cycling and exercise classes for fitness.

It’s because people are not being given what they want from team sport, Goldsmith argues.

And as he puts it, on his website newsportfuture.com, “it’s not money or global warming or kids’ obsession with the Internet that’s killing competitive sport: it’s conservative thinking, limited imagination and a complete lack of creativity that’s led us to this place.”

The clubman can sing that one.

Sport’s pathway to ruin?

Wayne Goldsmith has several theories why competitive sport is in a global decline. For one, there’s the rise of the pathway.

The pathway, he reckons, “is the single most destructive aspect of the sports industry around the world right now.

“The blind adherence to the sport-pathway model, in some sports, has led to many athletes (and their parents) thinking, ’I am not in the under-11 representative team…therefore I am not on the “pathway”…therefore I am wasting my time in this sport’.

“The child drops out of that sport or, even worse…drops out of sport altogether.”

It’s a counterpoint to those who are busy building elite pathways, via academies and centres of excellence and emerging talent programmes.

But even if overall numbers are down, isn’t a smooth pathway worthwhile for the elite talent it delivers? Goldsmith isn’t convinced.

“The only athletes benefiting from the sport-pathway model are the ‘early developers’ and the poor performance of early-developing athletes in senior sport has been very, very documented all over the world for the past 50 years.”

Heroes & villains

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

Andres Iniesta: The most universally-loved footballer in the game’s history? If Messi can successfully trademark his name, as he managed this week, Iniesta should have rights to La Croqueta — the right foot left foot trick that squeezed him out of the tightest corners.

Mo Salah: My barber, sick of doing skin fades, is anxiously waiting for a footballer to move tonsorial fashion on. But be careful what you wish for; if Liverpool keep this up half the young lads in Cork will want him to magic up a Mo-fro.

HELL IN A HANDCART

World Snooker: The ban on football shirts is a worrying hint of notions at The Crucible.

Andrea Radrizzani: “If because of the tour we further highlight the ongoing serious issues in certain areas of the country, then maybe that is a positive thing.” Impressive commitment to highlighting human rights abuses by the Leeds chief set to tour Myanmar.

Kane bantz: Had officially gone too far the moment the FA waded in.

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