BY DENIS HURLEY
TUESDAY night of last week signalled a major new departure for Cork GAA as the draws for the 2020 county championships took place.
While the decoupling of the draws from the annual county convention was a big enough development in itself, the fact that, for the first time in more than three decades, a group stage will be in use means that this was a new vista for everybody.
County board secretary/CEO Kevin O’Donovan was a chief driver in the change in format and deserves credit for not sticking with the tried and somewhat mistrusted just because it’s there. Ultimately, the proposals came about after consultation with a number of various stakeholders and the system in use for the next three years was the resounding choice from the three available options.
As outlined elsewhere, there are some tasty draws, not least the all-West Cork premier senior football championship group which features Carbery Rangers, Castlehaven, Newcestown and Ilen Rovers. Ideally, these games would draw huge crowds to various Carbery venues during high summer but, unfortunately, the first two fixtures will be in April while the latter two will be in August at the earliest.
That that is the case is not the fault of the county board but instead a by-product of the expanded intercounty season were May and June are taken up with the provincial hurling championships and July and August house the football Super 8s, meaning that there is no realistic slot available for club action, certainly not at senior level.
Obviously, none of this is anything new and we don’t mention it solely for the purpose of fomenting divisions. That is happening anyway, something that was magnified by Tuesday’s announcement by the Club Players’ Association that it was withdrawing from the task force established by the GAA to examine the current fixtures calendar.
A statement issued by the organisation certainly didn’t hold back, reading: ‘Our contention is that the task force is a “Trojan horse”, designed to give cover to the GAA authorities to ratify the status quo, while having the appearance of consultation and thoughtful deliberation.
‘In reality, it will simply be a ratification process for the newly introduced Tier Two football championship and retention of the Super 8s. Proposals that stand the best chance of getting through the decision-making process at Congress, are not the same thing as the best proposals for the future of the GAA.’
When the body that represents the vast majority of those who play football or hurling is disillusioned to such an extent, you have to wonder why the interests of the less-than-elite many are not being given the same consideration as the top-level tiny minority. Or rather, you would if that small percentage was not responsible for the bulk of the association’s commercial income. The CPA maintained that its proposals were ignored and that the objective of the task-force was to ensure that the second-tier football championship was given a smooth path into existence.
The problem for the GAA is that its various competitions are like plants in a glasshouse that have grown tangled around each other as the years have passed. You can prune them slightly to make some space, but to organise things properly you’d have to cut them to the roots and secure them with climbers to avoid a reoccurrence of the situation.
Unfortunately, the GAA solution is to make piecemeal changes in isolation, such as the change in scheduling for the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups or the baffling decision to move the All-Ireland U20 football from its successful summer siting to February and March. It’s all window-dressing and the big issues aren’t tackled.
Establishing a task-force to examine how to go forward was a positive move, but if the views of a major stakeholder weren’t taken on board, or ignored outright, then the whole process falls at the first hurdle.
The big question to come out of all of this is where the CPA goes now. They tried making changes in the form of Congress motions but couldn’t find joy there and now their suggestions seem to have been dismissed.
The nuclear option is a strike but the problem is that most players just want to play rather than having to become trade-unionists too. It all depends on where the tipping point is and right now the appetite for revolution doesn’t seem to be there.