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Analysis The more things change: Dubs, fixtures and amateurism – the problems that won’t go away for the GAA


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Familiar story: Many of the problems highlighted by the McNamee Report, commissioned by Croke Park 50 years ago, are still at the forefront of GAA debates today. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Familiar story: Many of the problems highlighted by the McNamee Report, commissioned by Croke Park 50 years ago, are still at the forefront of GAA debates today. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Familiar story: Many of the problems highlighted by the McNamee Report, commissioned by Croke Park 50 years ago, are still at the forefront of GAA debates today. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Every so often the GAA, like other sporting organisation and business, holds a mirror up to itself and takes a cold, hard look at everything it does.

'Root and branch' reviews are a staple diet for any organisation that draws many people into huge amount of activity and with so much revenue channelling through its arteries and veins. Such reviews are expected to take a snapshot in time, reflect a changing world and keep pace with it.

Recommendations arise, some are taken on board and acted upon while others never see the light of day.

Two years ago, 'GAA Towards 2034 -the 150th anniversary of the GAA', commissioned by the previous president Aogán Ó Fearghail, and overseen by former INTO general secretary John Carr, wasn't published at all. A strange decision.

Sometimes an organisation sees aspects of itself that makes it a little more squeamish, and the proposal to pay an allowance to inter-county players and scrap the existing management structure of the Association - Central Council and four provincial councils - was clearly too unnerving to put in the public domain at that time.

Reviews of amateurism, fixtures, player demands and playing rules have almost been constant in the 19 years since the previous overarching report was published in 2002: The Strategic Review, commissioned by then GAA president Sean McCague and chaired by one of his predecessors Peter Quinn.

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Former GAA President Sean McCague. Photo: Tom Burke

Former GAA President Sean McCague. Photo: Tom Burke

Former GAA President Sean McCague. Photo: Tom Burke

It was the report responsible for suggesting the division of Dublin and the concentration of resources, financial and personnel, into the development of the game in the capital.

Prior to that the 'Report of the Commission on the GAA', subsequently known as the McNamee Report because of the chairmanship of another former president Padraig McNamee, was perhaps the most consequential the Association has ever produced, as it sought to address a rapidly-changing Irish society.

And yet many of the issues the original 20-man commission delved into are a recurring theme. From rural depopulation and urbanisation to the growth of Dublin, the failure to develop the game of hurling sufficiently, unsatisfactory competition structures and the spread of inter-county competitions that was eating up the club game and the levels of cynicism in football, many of the issues then, when the report was published 50 years ago, are in sync with the issues of today. The more things change the more they stay the same.

The commission divided their work into nine different sections, making 177 recommendations.

Structure

Some 37 recommendations were made here in one of the most progressive sections, chief among the establishment of a Management Committee that still governs Association business and implements policy between Congresses.

Also suggested were activities and development committees that have since gravitated into today's Central Competitions Controls Committee (CCCC) and Coach and Games Development department.

The 'ard-rúnaí' was recommended to be changed to 'ard-stiúrthóir', which it remains today, while a full-time management accountant was also proposed for the first time.

A recommendation to employ two-full-time permanent officers to the Dublin county board had been taken up by the time of publication while full-time officers were also recommended for other selected urban areas.

Recognising the shifting demographics, the commission noted that the association is "weakest where the population is increasing, it is strongest where the population is declining.

"The extent of the adverse trends in recent years has now brought a full realisation of its seriousness for the association. It will take much planning, dedication and time to remedy the situation. Planning can be done, dedication is there. But time may be running out," it warned.

A requirement for club constitutions to be adopted was recommended, as was the necessity for an annual general meeting to be held. A club affiliation fee, £5 minimum, was mooted by the commission for the first time as was an annual 'honorarium' for county secretaries.

However, a recommendation that clubs be based on population groupings rather than traditional parishes or other boundaries, a move that would have led to seismic change, was never taken up.

Financial Management

Standardised accounting practices through all counties and provinces were recommended, as was greater exploration of fundraising ventures and a professional survey be undertaken to examine "suitable commercial development of the association's main grounds".

At the time it was noted that three counties had annual income over £20,000, three had income between £10,000 and £20,000, four had between £7,500 and £10,000, with the balance of 22 all below £7,500.

Grounds

Floodlights, press boxes, TV accommodation, first-aid rooms, better toilet facilities, amplification systems, better dressing-rooms and stiles for more streamlined access were among the McNamee proposals for improvements in Croke Park and provincial grounds. It was also suggested that attendants should be employed at games.

The commission recommended continued assistance in the development of social centres, something that accelerated over the next three decades.

Communication

That the current media and communications awards schemes are known as the McNamee awards reflects the importance of communications in the 1971 report all these years later.

With 'Structure', this section had arguably the most far-reaching consequence with the appointment of a public relations officer, an office to support that appointment in Croke Park and a firm recognition that the GAA would have to be more innovative and fight for its share of fair coverage in the print and broadcast media.

The commission grappled with the pros and cons of live television which was having a positive impact on other sports, most notably golf and soccer through the 1960s.

"On one hand it is argued that live coverage sells the game to the public, that there is the mystery of who is going to win and that in general more can be done for Gaelic games by live television than by any other means. On the other hand, it is argued that live TV coverage results in reduced attendance and that in some cases, e.g. All-Ireland semi-finals, it interferes considerably with club championships.

"It is the considered opinion of the Commission that live television has an adverse effect on attendances."

It was recommended to show All-Ireland finals live but not semi-finals or provincial finals. In the years that followed, All-Ireland semi-finals were broadcast and the assumptions of the commission were proved wrong.

Youth

A section that surveyed the opinion of youth across a wide variety of topics.

The appointment of youth officers and Coiste na nÓg were encouraged while better games programmes for 'average' underage players were also recommended, something that will chime with many of today's parents.

Hurling

If anything is frozen in time over 50 years it is the area of strength the game of hurling reaches to and this section reflects that. A hurling scheme under the supervision of An Coiste Iomána was already under way, but the commission recommended a more nuanced approach with the targeting of no more than four counties at a time for "concentrated development". That policy has been in place in recent years too. Concerns over the availability of ash for hurleys was also expressed with encouragement to explore synthetic hurleys.

Discipline

A section that focused on elevating the importance of referees and streamlining suspensions so the maximum was two years and minimum was two weeks, halved from a month. It was also recommended to make it that the provision of a playing suspension would differ from a general suspension.

Sponsorship

The acceptance of sponsorship was widely encouraged, provided there were "safeguards" as to how appropriate the sponsorship was. On that note, there was one dissenting voice on the commission regarding cigarette sponsorship - Tomás Roseingrave opposing on health grounds. Carroll's subsequently sponsored the All-Star scheme.

Games

"We were particularly concerned about the high incidence of the deliberate fouls on attacking players to prevent a score," the commission wrote in an echo of today's game.

"It must be admitted that there is a tacit acceptance of the fact that while the rules remain as they are, it pays to pull down or otherwise foul an attacking player and it is widely regarded as a legitimate tactic. The solution appears to lie therefore in making it expensive to foul a player deliberately."

Fifty years on, Gaelic football is still searching for the solution to that one.

The same group made wide-ranging recommendations on competition structures that were never followed up on, proposing an open football draw over two years, home and away, the abolition of provincial football championships and the retention of Munster and Leinster hurling championships.

A recommendation for an All-Ireland club championship, regional round-robin, didn't get off the ground either.

Thirteen-a-side in hurling, the abolition of U-21 inter-county competitions, a 30-yard line instead of a 21-yard line to avoid the dangers of close-range frees in hurling and an enlarged parallelogram were all proposed but not acted upon.


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