It seems the advent of the Super Eights and bringing forward of the All-Ireland finals by a few days has not solved the club fixture crises. In fact last week clubs in Roscommon have formally called on the GAA to have a full review of both county and club fixtures. The request by the clubs was adopted by the County Board and the board will now seek to have the matter discussed at the next meeting of Central Council.
This comes on the back of Brian Cody, the Kilkenny hurling manager, giving an interview a few weeks ago in the Sunday Independent. Considering that a lot of the criticism is levelled at county managers for restricting county players from playing with their clubs, it’s refreshing to hear one of the most successful and established names at county level talk so openly and honestly.
As there is plenty of spotlight on the club games in the last few weeks with county finals being played and with the club provincial championships about to get under way there is a perception that everything is rosy in the garden; not according to Cody. He believes there is going to be a crisis within the GAA in the future and he believes that the GAA “is isolating clubs and club players”.
He goes on to say that “everybody talks about the club, and rightly so, but it’s the players that are being isolated, they are being denied the opportunity to enjoy playing the game when they need to play the game”.
Cody’s point is around the lack of club fixtures during the summer period and then club players having to play their most important club fixtures late in the year and at times in woeful weather conditions.
Consider the club player for a moment. Usually the club will elect their managers in late December or early January. In Donegal, like most other counties, the league tends to start around the middle of March.
Given that most club managers will expect players to put in at least six to eight weeks of training beforehand, training starts maybe in the second or third week of January. They will, if they’re lucky, have their county players available for a few games in April depending on the county manager’s training schedule and, of course, if any players picked up injuries during the National League.
Then the club players will play a few league games between then and September; they will have more weekends where there is not a game than weekends when there will be a game. Keep in mind the schedule for these games can be changed at any time.
Then we are in September, the summer gone, and a few league games played. Take into consideration that the training has not stopped; it’s continuous right through the summer regardless of whether you’re playing or not. The championship begins and, like most counties, the Champions League style group stage format starts, players are expected to play three or maybe four games on the spin.
If they qualify they are out the week after that but if they don’t, year over. Thanks for that lads, see you next January.
Your entire year’s training, all the commitment and effort can be done and dusted after just three weeks. Because, let’s be real, no one gives much consideration to the league anyway. This is due to the fact that county players are now not part and parcel of club league campaigns.
By the time the end of September comes, club players have trained nine months, 36 weeks, three times a week, and that’s those players who don’t get to play in a county semi-final or final.
Also the county players are not immune to being dissatisfied with the way the games are going. Yes, there was a brilliant hurling championship this year, some great games with intriguing outcomes but according to Brian Cody it was a knee jerk reaction to the Super Eights in football.
County players will be expected to play provincial competitions like the O’Byrne Cup or the McKenna Cup before the end of December, then straight into the National League, then prepare for the provincial championships, then the All-Ireland series. When that’s finished they are expected to be the backbone of their club side until that campaign is finished.
Then we have the situation in County Wicklow. Only last weekend 24 hours after defeating Rathnew in a county final replay, St. Patrick’s were out against Rhode of Offaly in the first round of the Leinster club championship. Wicklow were out of the All-Ireland series on the 9th June. Who would, in their right minds, believe this is a fitting way to treat players. Where is the much-heralded welfare programme gone too? How long to they believe that both club and county players will sustain an interest in their games when the level of commitment that is now required is semi-professional or indeed with many of the big clubs, professional.
Another issue that has arisen in the last few years is the physicality that is required now to be involved in Gaelic games. Considering that officials with rugby are struggling to stem the dropout rate within their sport, because parents are not satisfied that it is in the best interest of their kids to be built like wrestlers or body builders, the same will creep into the GAA. There are very few clubs now that don’t have a gym and most will have teams as young as 16 doing a strength and conditioning programme.
When the likes of Brian Cody openly talk of their fear for where the games are going, it is incumbent on those who are charged with looking after the national games, that they listen and take on board what is said.
Like many I believe we are at a crossroads in terms of where the games are going. In the last few years finance seems to take centre stage when important changes are made. Maybe we need to look at it from a different viewpoint. Maybe we need to put players first for a change.