Tommy Kenoy, secretary of the disbanded Club Players Association, has urged GAA clubs to ‘stand up and speak’ more often in future and to utilise their ‘powerful voice’.
The CPA, with around 30,000 members, disbanded on Monday night after almost five years of lobbying for a proper fixtures schedule for club players, or to ‘fix the fixtures’.
Their desire for a split season was finally granted at Congress last weekend, partly because of their agitation though mainly because of the success of the temporary model used in 2020.
Kenoy, a key figure also in the successful drive to amend Rule 42 in the mid-2000s, acknowledged that "there’s no question we wouldn’t have got to where we are now but for this pandemic".
But he also claimed it as a victory for the grassroots with the GAA once again having "the club at its core" after finally agreeing to what he termed the "blindingly obvious".
“I have advocated and pushed and been saying it for donkey’s years that there is a very powerful voice there if the ordinary club members of the GAA will only stand up and speak,” said Kenoy. “It doesn’t happen often enough at all. I’ve said it at more meetings than I can remember and I wish it would happen more.
“I remember as a 19-year-old before the ‘Ban’ was lifted (in 1971), I was playing soccer, mainly to keep fit in the winter, and an elderly gentleman came up to me. He knew I was playing U-21 for Roscommon at the time and he said ‘Look, you’ll be thrown out of the GAA if you’re reported’.
“The ordinary members got together at that time, they came together at club level and organised themselves and mandated their Congress delegates to get rid of that rule. I was very involved in the Rule 42 debate and I remember we were blocked with it in 2004 and we called on the ordinary members to get into their clubs and county board meetings and mandate the support of the amendment of Rule 42, which is what happened.
Kenoy agreed that but for the pandemic, and seeing how well the split season worked last year, the GAA wouldn’t have implemented it so soon. “It wasn’t a very pleasant battle,” he said of the CPA’s lobbying since 2016. “There was some pretty unwelcome stuff that went on but when the pandemic hit it was the law of unintended consequences and out popped the solution we’d spent so much time campaigning for.
“It was so blindingly obvious all along that this was the way to go and in the end we all got there in a way no-one would have expected with the pandemic. How long would we have had to keep going otherwise? Who knows? Genuinely, who knows? We were listened to but that was it. There was never a sense that the people who run our organisation were backing us in our pursuit of a split season.”
The CPA was officially launched in early 2017 at the Ballyboden St Enda’s club. Soon after, a request for formal recognition was knocked back by the GAA.
The following year their bid for greater transparency in voting at Congress was heavily defeated.
And in 2019 the CPA pulled out of the GAA’s Fixtures Review Task Force, describing it as a "Trojan horse" set up to "ratify the status quo".
Kenoy reckons some in the GAA thought the CPA "wanted to be the next GPA" but says nothing could be further from the truth.
“From day one this was always about fixing the fixtures and I’ll tell you exactly what prompted me to get involved. I was chairman of Kilmore in 2016 when we won the Roscommon Intermediate Football Championship after a replay that went to extra-time. We asked for a postponement of our Connacht club championship game the next day but were refused so we left our dressing-rooms in Strokestown at 4.30pm on the Saturday after winning the replay and had to be in another dressing-room in Tuam the following day at midday.
Kenoy feels that the new split-season model, wrapping up inter-county activity by July for club championships to then kick in, will go down as a historic development.
“I think John Horan’s big ambition was to bring in the second-tier football championship but I believe he may now be remembered as the president who oversaw the split season. I think he’ll be remembered very kindly for that act alone.”