Saturday, October 27, 2007

Why you should oppose the GPA strike - Reason No. 1

In the GAA world there are three major groupings, the players, the elected officers and the supporters. We know where the other two stand on this issue. But, what about the supporters-who after all make up 98% of the GAA? Ordinary clubmen and supporters need to stand up and make their voice heard on the GPA and their ultimate agenda. A lot of people are opposed to the strike but their voice is dissipated across the Internet and barely mentioned by the media. We need to change this by coming together to demonstrate our opposition. I'm trying to take this initiative by announcing a call to action. As a first step Declare for your County by signing the petition.

There are also those out there who say, "Why not? Why shouldn't they get a few bob?" They need to be educated on the Pandora's Box of pain and trouble that paying a grant to the players will open up. I'll try to this over over the coming weeks.

The GPA is a Trojan Horse for pay for play. No amount of denial on their behalf can deny this. The payment of the grant to players will establish a principle that cannot be reversed. It will forevermore form a link between playing for the county and financial compensation. There will be no turning back. From this point on it becomes a question of (a) how much pay? and (b) who pays? Nickey Brennan and the Croke Park officials are right not to get involved in the mechanics of distributing the government grant. It is the government's money therefore, it should be up to the Government to find a mechanism to pay the players. There is no guarantee that the money will be granted every year by the government. In that case the GPA will undoubtedly continue to demand their grant directly from the GAA. They won't care about the source, they'll just want their money. If the GPA get €5m this year, what will they want in two years time? They tell us now that the payment of the grant is an "acknowledgement of their status as inter-county players". Undoubtedly, in a few years they will tell us that €2,500 is too small, that it is an "insult to their status as inter-county players" and that the GAA should come up with more.

How do know this? It's an inevitable process that has already been demonstrated by the short history of the GPA. The GPA agenda has changed considerably since the organisation's foundation. For nearly a decade now the GPA has improved conditions for inter-county players, and fair play to them for doing so-it was needed. When they first started out they increased the measly 12p-a-mile expense allowance and ensured that all players received hot meals after training and received free gear. But increasingly, they have sounded like workers in a sweatshop. They talk of exploitation, the absence of compensation and benefits, poor conditions, denial of rights and emotional humiliation (because they look at the rugby and soccer players and can't help feeling that they are being taken for a ride). Before welfare meant player representation and better conditions. Less than ten years later it now means money in their back pockets. If the GPA's current demands are met, then they will look for more. They are already speaking in those terms. Just this week Donal O'Neill spoke of the GPA getting a percentage of any new television deal negotiated by Croke Park. If this isn't moving the GAA to pay for play, what is? It is clear that their longterm aim is a move towards professionalism in some form or other, and no amount of denying it can hide this fact.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Gaelic football is a wonderful game, were I an Irishman I'd play Gaelic football till the day I dropped dead - Zinzan Brooke

Not if you were at Parc Tailteann last week for the Meath Senior County Final. Seneschalstown and Navan O'Mahonys played out a draw, in what was rightly reported as "a drab, dull, uninspiring and downright awful final". Despite the presence of All-Star Stephen Bray, and several other players from the Meath team, there was little entertainment and no quality football for the €20 entry fee.

It has to be said it was very poor value for money. But then why does a final always carry with it the expectation that it will be a good game? Perhaps it's the hype. Perhaps it's the occasion. Take the Rugby World Cup final between England and South Africa for example. Official face-value tickets that were priced at £1,023 were offered online for a staggering £25,000! Had they not seen any of England's previous matches? The ballyhoo surrounding the Rugby World Cup obviously got to them and took over their senses. But that's besides the point.

What I'm getting at is that it is more and more rare to see effusive and fulsome praise in the post-match analysis of a Gaelic football match. Mayo v. Dublin last year was an exception. It had every thing and more. There was pre-match shenanigans with both teams warming-up at the Hill 16 end of the pitch, as Mayo imposed themselves on Dublin physically and pyschologically before the ball was thrown in. The tension and intensity never abated from there. There was passion, there was heroism from Ciaran MacDonald and there was euphoria and jubliliation at the end. It was a thrilling game and a great comeback by Mayo. Best of all though-the football was fast paced and free flowing with great scores, points and goals, throughout the game.

That match epitomised everything that is great about the game. As Zinzan Brooke, All Black ruby legend, pointed out in his autobiography Gaelic Football has everything. It's "great for elevation skills, anticipation, kicking off either foot (a must), running, passing by hand or kick-passing". It "demands harp hand-eye co-ordination, ambidextrous skills, kicking for the natural arc off left foot and right". "And the contact! The contact made the blood run whether you were taking it or giving it." So why aren't these qualities translating into great games on a more consistent basis?

Martin Carney believes it's because Traditional Football is Dead - running and handpassing have replaced the catch and kick template impacting on the skill level in the game. Is it because there is too much emphasis on fitness and conditioning at the expense of traditional skills in training? Or is it because players are fitter and the premium is now on a possession game? Should we blame the handpass? Whatever it is, we need more of Zinzan Brooke's conception of Gaelic football.

`If I was Irish I'd play Gaelic' says All Black Zinzan Brooke, Irish Times, 14 November 1997

Playing Gaelic and Aussie Rules added up in a way to the sort of rugby player I am

Rather than charging out of the Lansdowne Road tunnel tomorrow attired in his fearsome All Black kit, imagine for a moment that - by some twist of fate or birth - Zinzan Brooke was an Irishman. Now, what sport do you think he would play?

The answer is Gaelic football, a sport he actually has a strong association with thanks to his days playing club football Down Under with Roskill Rangers in the 1980s. In his autobiography Zinny - The Zinzan Brooke Story, the New Zealand rugby colossus even goes so far as to state: "Were I an Irishman I'd play Gaelic football till the day I dropped dead." Brooke's introduction to GAA came courtesy of another All Black, Bernie McCahill who, back in 1983, enticed him into playing club football during the summer months. In his book, Brooke recalls: "I unashamedly wallowed in the game, great for elevation skills, anticipation, kicking off either foot (a must), running, passing by hand or kick-passing. And the contact! The contact made the blood run whether you were taking it or giving it." One of Brooke's most cherished recollections of his days playing football - he actually played in the Australasian championship for six years - was coming face to face with Jim Stynes, the former Dublin minor and brother of current inter-county star Brian.

"In the Australasian championships we played a team which had a giant named Jimmy Stynes they had caught and caged somewhere in the wilds. They unleashed him every Sunday and pointed him toward the opposition and this day they pointed him at me and said, `Kill, Jimmy, kill.' My head came up to his armpit, which was an area I would not have chosen, but there it was all the same, just above my nose. "`Zinny', I said, `you're not going to play much ball unless you get under this guy and take his legs out'. So with impeccable timing I drove into his legs and on over the touchline and planted him into the Carlaw Park grandstand. He did not die. He got up, shook himself shaggily, grinned amiably, said, `Kill, Jimmy, kill' and came right back into the game.

"It was probably on the strength of that tackle on him that I made the Australasian team, an achievement no one seems especially interested in conveying to the Hall of Fame. Playing Gaelic and Aussie Rules added up in a way to the sort of rugby player I am. In Gaelic, especially, the demands were for sharp hand-eye co-ordination, ambidextrous skills, kicking for the natural arc off left foot and right. Were I an Irishman I'd play Gaelic football till the day I dropped dead." The GAA were actually going to invite Brooke to visit Croke Park today but were informed that he normally rests on the eve of a match. "We'd love to have him as our guest some other time," said the GAA's Pat Daly.