OpinionPat Spillane

It's much ado about nothing as Congress buries big issue

Pat SpillaneBy Pat Spillane
Laying down the marker: Stephen O'Brien's Kerry were in great form against Dublin
Laying down the marker: Stephen O'Brien's Kerry were in great form against Dublin

Last weekend the GAA took me on a roller coaster ride of conflicting emotions.

I was proud last Saturday as I watched my son Pat feature on the Pobalscoil Inbhear Scéine team from Kenmare that lost to Coláiste Ghobnatan, Ballyvourney in the Munster Colleges C final. I felt the pain of his loss and shed a few tears in private.
But having witnessed the C and A finals – the latter ended in a draw – I was happy with the direction post-primary schools football in Munster is taking. There wasn’t a hint of negativity and all four teams played wonderful attacking football.
Twenty four hours later my spirits were lifted again by the Dublin versus Kerry match. It was a cracker. Sure we could have done without the schmozzle at the end and the sledging, but this was a serious contest – particularly so early in the year. 
Kerry laid down a marker and we learned that without key players such as Stephen Cluxton, Diarmuid Connolly and Michael Darragh Macauley, Dublin look very ordinary indeed. The top priority for Jim Gavin is to unearth a couple of natural midfielders. 
As for the GAA Congress, it left me happy, sad, angry and frustrated – all at the same time! Let’s list the positive decisions made in Cavan. They mostly relate to hurling: the one-on-one penalty, the advantage rule and the Christy Ring Cup winners being guaranteed a place in the All-Ireland are all to be welcomed.
What left me angry, however, was not so much that all the motions seeking the curtailment of the hand pass failed spectacularly, but the complete lack of a debate on the topic. The so-called custodians of Gaelic football failed to engage in a meaningful debate on the blight that is destroying the game. Shame on you!
Just to reinforce my argument, 24 hours later the Donegal versus Cork league tie featured 441 hand passes compared to 66 kick passes. I rest my case. Congress backed moves to punish teams that break the winter training ban. Well, I wouldn’t hold my breath on that measure being implemented.
Trust me, there are a million ways around the rule. What if a county says that it was their U-20s and a half development squad which was caught training?
Congress agreed to adopt a new rule under which players have to be at least 17 to play adult football at club level and to be over 16 to play U-21. In terms of inter-county action the age limits for the two codes have raised to 18. No more child prodigies then.
In theory this is to be welcomed, but I have my reservations; not least the fact that it will impact negatively on the ability of rural clubs to field teams. Secondly, I’m not convinced that it addresses the core issue of play burnout. The root cause is the behaviour of managers who are flogging players into early retirement.
Finally, at a time when the majority of county boards are struggling financially, the decision not to explore the option to opening up county grounds to other sports was short-sighted. Overall, Congress reminded me of William Shakespeare’s cherished comedy Much Ado About Nothing.
What I did find interesting, however, were the comments made by both Páraic Duffy and Liam O’Neill. Director General Duffy had a pop at those who label the association as ‘corporate GAA’. Well, five Garth Brooks concerts were scheduled for Croker, as well as an American football game the day of the All-Ireland football replay. Sorry Páraic, but I have to disagree with your views on this one.
It seems to me that the commercial wing of the GAA is calling the shots; the rest of the association is rubber-stamping these proposals regardless of the views of ordinary members.
 Outgoing President Liam O’Neill (above, left) was an honourable and decent man who devoted an enormous number of man hours to the job. But he presided over the Sky deal which has left a bitter legacy, regardless of how it is dressed up. 
The vast majority of GAA members disagreed with the decision, which was taken in the upmost secrecy and defended with a flawed argument about how it would benefit the diaspora. It’s the long-term implications of the deal that worry me. Trust me, the fun will start in two years. Sky will want a bigger slice of the action; BT will probably enter the bidding war and more money will be thrown at the GAA. 
I fear the needs of the ordinary GAA member will be overlooked.
Finally, I profoundly disagree with the suggestion from new President Aogán ó Fearghail that there are too many live GAA matches on TV. The reality of 21st century sport is that it’s live TV that drives the popularity of the sport.