MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: GAA needs to pay more than lip service to dual clubs

Chrissy McKaigue’s comments bear repeating, writes Michael Moynihan.

“We have some fantastic dual players in this club,” said the Slaughtneil man last week on RTÉ.

“But the reality is, it’s very, very difficult to do yourself justice and be the best hurler you can be or the best footballer you can be when you’re chopping and changing so much, and that’s just the reality.

“I have always been a huge promoter for duality because I think as Gaels, that’s what we should be about, we should be promoting our national games, irrespective of what part of the country we’re from.

“But there comes a time where perhaps you might just have to be, dare I say, selfish and say ‘look physically, mentally, emotionally, I can’t give much more here’. I might have to pick a code or give slightly more to a code.”

McKaigue’s comments are worth unpacking in full.

For instance, his reference to promoting the games irrespective of where in the country you are is a slap in the face for quite a few clubs and county boards.

The Derry men came up short against Na Piarsaigh in the All-Ireland club hurling semi-final, but they were beaten by a better team on the day, not narrow-mindedness which goes back decades.

Slaughtneil are a walking indictment of the attitude in quite a few places where hurling and Gaelic football are not cherished equally, and where one code is favoured on the basis that the club or county has a better chance of success in that sport.

For a player like McKaigue the reality is a grim one - as he says himself, there’s a de facto choice being forced on him and those like him because of the ferocity of the demands of competing at the highest level.

The fault isn’t his; that’s just the reality of where inter-county preparation is.

There are other people who are in a position to address this, though, a situation that has been allowed to develop where an organisation which professes to promote its games also rules out, effectively, participation in both of those games. What other sporting body is complicit in stopping its members playing its games?

How exactly this happened is worth examining, but that’s something for another day. Right now it’s a real issue for the GAA that a club which has actually committed itself to doing what hundreds of others give lip service to is now facing a choice - to stop giving equal status to the two main sports it plays.

I can’t say I know John Horan, but I noted the concerns he expressed last week about elitism, having ascended to the position of President of the GAA.

He might be as well to look at an elitism which is really a form of defeatism, one that drives the dismissal of commitment to all the GAA sports, and the real fixture crisis.

By the latter I mean one which confounds those who want to play Gaelic games, not just rugby league with forward passes.

Jones deserves more respect

I feel bad about Eddie Jones, the Australian in charge of the England rugby team, because he’s somebody I never really warmed to, and you know yourself how it feels when somebody like that deserves your sympathy.

Apparently Jones was at Chelsea-Manchester United and got a train back to London, where some Scots asked for a selfie. Jones obliged and the Scots then abused him verbally, getting confrontational as he hopped into a car.

“For me to travel on public transport I thought was OK but I’ll make sure I won’t in future,” he was quoted as saying later.... You’ve got to have a look at your own safety.”

In fairness to the man, he stood in for the photographs and then gets an earful from a couple of knuckle-draggers? As I say, I can’t call myself a huge fan of Jones’s attitude on occasion, but he deserved better than that.

In fairness to the Scottish Rugby Union it distanced itself from the incident, but ludramans like that will, unfortunately, always be with us.

Knowledge is power — for who?

There was some interesting news coming out of the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference — interesting in particular because of the ramifications for data in sports.

Why? Because in all sports knowledge is power, hence the unquenchable thirst for precise, quantifiable figures.

“There’s this big push to quantify everything without, as of yet, knowing what those quantities mean,” NHL Player Association representative Don Fehr told the conference.

“So we can say you skated a little bit slower than you did three years ago, does that mean your play is better or worse? Are you taking time to figure out where you’re going or can you not keep up any more?

“There’s a real danger in negotiations of having a lot of statistics that merely provide excuses for people to do what they want to do.” Interestingly, the NFL prohibits the use of data in player contract negotiations, and Major League Baseball doesn’t allow data to be used in salary arbitration discussions. The NBA Player Association’s Michele Roberts articulated the player position in that sport: “We caution the players about how, if at all, they should be disclosing this information. Efficacy, validation — those things are important to us. We don’t know if some of this stuff is, frankly, junk.

“And we certainly don’t want it to have it used in contract negotiations. Maintaining control of the data has been our primary focus.” This is the key element, control or ownership of the data. Who has first call on it — management and the coaching staff who gather it, or the player who provides the measurable information in the first place?

If you think this has nothing to do with the sports we watch here, think again. Stats, data, information, GPS readings, gym performances — all of those go into the hat when athletes are being evaluated. But that question of ownership hasn’t been answered to anyone’s satisfaction. If it belongs to coaches and management does that tilt the balance of power too much to one side, or is that power relationship already one-sided? If it belongs to the athlete is it up to him or her whether they reveal that information?

Tricky questions ahead.

Find a home for Slow Horses and The Dry

If you’re in the market for a good thriller, and who isn’t, I finished Slow Horses by Mick Herron last week and it was excellent. Moved on to The Dry by Jane Harper — set in a scalding drought in Australia, which made an interesting backdrop to the last week — and found that a fair page-turner. Both are a a decent read.


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