Laois hurling manager Eddie Brennan has called on the GAA to be “strong” in ensuring “a level playing field” for all counties preparing for the championship.
Brennan pointed out that condensed club championships have the potential to give some counties an unfair advantage in preparation: Wexford plans to run off its entire club hurling championship in just over three weeks in August, for instance, while the Laois hurlers will not train collectively before mid-September at the earliest.
“There’s a level of talking out of both sides of the mouth about club players from some people,” said Brennan.
“We had an opportunity to make this a novel year, with no senior intercounty championship, but that’s obviously the showpiece of the GAA season and income from that is important. We can’t be naive about that.
“But I’ve been instructed in Laois that we’re not allowed to train collectively until the 13th or 14th of September. That’s black and white as far as the county board is concerned.
“That’s okay. I think most managers would feel okay with not being allowed to train until a certain date — provided it’s the same for everybody.”
Brennan drew a comparison between his side and Wexford: “As things stand, Wexford would be finished its championship and all its county players would be available from the middle or end of August.
“In Laois county players wouldn’t be available until the last weekend in September. If Laois were playing Wexford in the Leinster championship which team would have the distinct advantage in terms of preparation?
“The GAA has to be very strong with this and proactive in acting. Michael Duignan pointed out lately that having teams train in parks and beaches to get around this is just not good enough.”
Brennan added that the county championships won’t be the only competition that’s compromised.
“The key point for me — as a pal of mine pointed out in work recently — is that intercounty players are obviously elite in terms of fitness and conditioning, but I thought the new championships system was demanding enough for them in the last couple of years, there were so many games.
“Now we’re going to ask club players, most of whom are nowhere near the same level of fitness, and none of whom have played a competitive game in months, to potentially play three games in seven or eight days?
That’s completely wrong. Small rural clubs aren’t going to be able to do that, so you’re going to give an advantage to bigger clubs immediately.
Brennan said he doesn’t see it as his place to interfere with fixture planning in Laois:
“As an intercounty manager I’m responsible for the Laois senior hurling team, so in terms of fixture planning, I’m a stakeholder in the process, put it that way.
“But I would never see it as my place to interfere or manipulate the local club structure within the county.
“I might say something like, ’Ideally I’d like to have the players for a certain period of time’ but I wouldn’t see it as my role to influence the county board or the clubs in how they arrange fixtures within the county.
“From my experience with Kilkenny we were always made available to our clubs for club games, and Brian (Cody, Kilkenny manager) would have been very strong on doing that.
“In recent years we’ve seen the formation of the Club Players Association and now, on top of that, we’re going to ride roughshod over club players by condensing local championships into a very small length of time?
“I understand where counties are coming from in trying to do that — but it’s still completely wrong.”
Brennan made a plea for club activity — of all types — to be made more central for the year.
“The main thing for me is that we do what’s right by our communities, our clubs, and our families.
“That’s the most critical thing here and it has to be the most central aspect of our thinking.
“Wouldn’t it be great if people could re-immerse themselves, the length and breadth of the country, in the club scene? For many people that’s the centre of their social lives and a return to club action would be great — there could be blitzes and field days and so on.
“There’s a huge focus now on the club-county divide, and I’d acknowledge that only when I went back to my own club I saw how little clubs got to see their county players.
“If you talk to people involved in rugby some of them would argue that since professionalism started the provincial player will rarely if ever tog out for his club, even though that’s where he started.
“That’s a route we don’t want to go (in the GAA) because most county players love going back to their clubs.”
The Kilkenny icon said fairness was the bottom line for all involved.
It’s easy to sling mud in a situation like this, and as I say I don’t see it as my role to come in and influence fixtures — but if there’s not a level playing field for every team that’s not fair.
“Not when one team may have three weeks to prepare for a game and another might have seven or eight weeks.
“The question of whether training has gone on among clubs and counties . . . as I say we have to keep to the facts, but the situation reminds me of A Few Good Men, the film where Tom Cruise is looking for the truth but Jack Nicholson says, ‘You can’t handle the truth’.
“That’s why county boards and club officers have to be very strong to make sure we stick to the protocols. There’s no point in one club adhering to the rules, not training, protecting the members of their community, while a club down the road is training away thinking ‘there’s an opportunity here to slip a championship and catch the other teams out’.
“There’s an onus on all of us as GAA people to say, ‘hey, we have to do what’s right here’.”