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Club Teams – The Forgotten People of GAA

There was a general sense of relief amongst Cork people when Brian Gavin blew the final whistle at the end of the Waterford game. The draw was a good result, taking into account how the game had gone for the Rebels. But there were a certain number of people in the county for whom this was a terrible result, the forgotten people of the ‘great*’ organisation that is the GAA.

*Note the sarcasm when saying ‘great’.

For many reasons the GAA is a great organisation. However, in this day and age the organisation has lost a lot of its traditional qualities. It’s not all black and white and that the hierarchy of the GAA are doing an awful job, but there are a lot of problems that go unnoticed. The draw meant another money making day for the GAA, Munster Council and the local Thurles area, but it spelled complete an utter disaster for clubs in both Cork and Waterford.

Yet again the inter-county scene papers over the cracks of what is a huge problem in Gaelic games and one that is only getting bigger. Club players are treated absolutely disgracefully and the situation in Cork ahead of the planned first round of fixtures just isn’t good enough in my opinion. It’s easy to say this from the side of somebody who isn’t involved in inter-county GAA at the top level but the whole situation is just turning into a shambles. There is no set fixture list for club players anywhere in the country.

The opener of the Cork Senior Championship is the one set fixture that clubs receive decent notice for. The first round of the football championships generally take place on the May bank holiday weekend, with the first round of hurling taking place on the June bank holiday weekend.  This still isn’t good enough but at least players have some idea of when they need to be fully prepared for one game. Now that fixture has even been taken away from the clubs in the light of Cork and Waterford’s draw.

It was finally confirmed that first round fixtures involving Cork players will not go ahead with the exception of three games, Ballymartle –v- Courcey Rovers, Cloyne –v- Valley Rovers and Carrigaline –v- Kilworth. Ballymartle have Cork sub goalkeeper Darren McCarthy who iS allowed to play, while Rob O’Shea of Carrigaline is also being released. The fact that the Cloyne is going ahead is just another reflection of how much power inter-county managers have. One can only assume that the game is being played to allow Paudie O’Sullivan to get a game under his belt to try and get up to match fitness ahead the replay with Waterford.

It just isn’t fair that one person can dictate the fixtures and pretty much wreck the plans of many club players all over the county. This is not a dig at Jimmy Barry-Murphy; it is criticism of the organisation in this day and age. The situation is far worse in other counties where club championships are on complete hold until inter-county activity is over. No inter-county manager should be allowed such power and no club players should be treated like this.

Directives must come from the figureheads of the organisation to sort this problem, but the silence is almost deafening as they allow the elite to have the playing field to themselves as the money comes in droves. And even though the money is pouring in like a broken tap, there will still be complaints from inter-county players that they are not seeing a cent of this money even though they are probably the main providers.

The GAA really have shown over the last few months that they are interested in making money and do not care about the core foundations that make the GAA what it is. Allowing One Direction to play three nights, and then Garth Brooks to play five nights in the height of GAA activity just shows that they want to make money. They have not shown enough regard for the players in this instance. If you are a player, you must question what’s going on. I am a person who has very little sympathy for inter-county players when they talk about their sacrifices, but surely they must look at those two events and wonder what more they have to do. Some of them will never grace the turf of Croke Park and yet musicians can play there and provide more money for the organisation.

The Sky deal may not be fully driven by money but the risks involved in this are huge. I am not totally against it, but it is dangerous grounds. If Sky take the GAA to another level, like they have with other sports, the move to professionalism will get closer and closer. And that would simply be disastrous. Fair enough, those players who play at the top level make a lot of sacrifices, more than club players, but they should not be getting paid. A lot of them do fine for themselves and get the best of everything in a GAA sense. The minimum they know is when their matches and training are on.

While they do not get paid, there are rewards. They have the opportunity of playing in front of big crowds in the best stadiums. There is a lot of fame and prestige at the top level with sponsorship and reimbursements being handed out in waves. Overall there are quite a lot of perks involved at inter-county level. And for every county player, there are hundreds if not thousands of club players that are totally forgotten about.

Club players also make a big commitment and expectations on them are quite high. They are expected to look after themselves appropriately in terms of training and socialising. A lot of club players do not book holidays and are forced to work around a season with no fixture list and then they can often just get forced to play a game at very short notice. It’s a farce, and the situation that does not look like it will improve anytime soon. If anything, it looks like it could get worse.

We often hear the phrase ‘that’s what the GAA is all about’. People pointed to the pitch invasion after the Munster Hurling Final last year, when Limerick fans turned the pitch into a sea of green and white. There was also a lot of credit given to Clare supporters who stayed behind to clap the Cork bus out of Croke Park after last year’s All-Ireland Final replay, and social media coverage pointed to those events ‘being what the GAA is all about’.

Sadly, I find myself asking what the GAA has become these days; what is it all about? One thing rears its ugly head throughout.

Money.

The sense of community is perceived as one of the organisation’s main strengths but there is a massive danger of the sense of community in GAA being destroyed.

The GAA provide a playing field in almost every community in Ireland, and these clubs are built on volunteers who give a lot of time and dedication for little or no reward. If the gap continues to get bigger between club and county, the GAA clubs could simply become redundant. This week has just shown more examples of clubs being treated very poorly and last year’s International Rules series did the exact same, when club fixtures were moved all over the place to accommodate that mockery of a series.

All the GAA care about is money and who can provide it. The exclusion of extra time in first round inter-county games is a joke. Ticket prices are not even reduced for the replay between Cork and Waterford and fans are expected to travel to Thurles again. The replay leads to more money for the GAA and complete chaos for clubs in Cork and Waterford.

The picture the GAA create of a colourful stadium with over 80,000 spectators creating an electric atmosphere is great to see, but it papers over cracks.

The club situation is a joke and it must be sorted. Players and managers at club level cannot be expected to put their lives on hold to have them dictated by intercounty managers. Croke Park cannot give power to managers any longer. They must take power out of their hands and force clubs to be given adequate time to prepare for and play their championship games.

If the problem is not solved, the organisation will no longer be the GAA as people know it. What a tragedy that would be.

Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.

 

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