Saturday, March 29, 2008

GAA: A level playing field

Although not yet signed, sealed, and delivered the "eligible expenses" scheme will involve a decent sum of money for players, especially for those that are students. With "performance" criteria built in to the scheme players will be paid depending on how far their county gets in the All-Ireland.

Both these elements pose an important question: at the start of each season, shouldn't each inter-county team be faced with the same number of games to reach the latter stages of the championship? The grants,  sorry, "eligible expenses" scheme may not create the pressure for change in this area yet, but if the GPA manages to get a percentage of TV money, then the pressure will build.

Currently, there is no level playing field in the All-Ireland. The historical geography of our provincial make-up dosen't allow it. Teams are faced with the same number of fixtures only after winning the provincial championships. No one can argue that Kerry or Cork face the same difficulty in winning their provincial championship as Armagh or Tyrone. Look at the Irish Independent's analysis of the situation in Ulster today, where there are six of the top 13 teams in the All-Ireland betting list. 

And even when the teams come through the provincial championships they do not enjoy equal status. The Ulster teams have to peak for round one of the championship and try to maintain their fitness throughout the season. Kerry have to peak to play Cork. 

How long can this situation last?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Making time for GAA club games

Sean over at GAA 2008 (hurrah! another GAA blogger) wonders if there's any merit in Clare's suggestion that the All-Ireland football and hurling finals should be completed by the second week of September.
Bringing the All-Ireland finals back one or two weeks was first mooted in the GAA's Club Fixtures paper, which was circulated in July 2007 to a number of Provincial Councils and County Boards. The feedback to this proposal and others was included in a report launched in October. Needless to say, the response to the proposals was far from conclusive.
The esteemed response of the counties is that there is strong support for a shorter inter-county season in term of facilitating club fixtures, but even greater concern about agreeing competition structures on a long-term basis to allow for an overall fixture schedule programme to be  developed. The "major concern", with such a proposal, is that, "because of the importance of media coverage to the promotion of our games, we would lose out to other sports by reducing the length of the inter-county season". Therefore, moving the All-Ireland finals back by a week/Clare's proposal is the "best" that could be considered. 
So, the club players can sit around all summer and wait until there's a good two inches of muck before being let out, because Gaelic games must be promoted in the media? I don't understand how having a week less to the All-Ireland Final would greatly inhibit the promotion of Gaelic games on television and in the news. Sounds like the GAA is more preoccupied with marketing than looking after its own members. 
Surely, the best way of promoting the games is to have the inter-county stars on television one week and then playing with their clubs, where people can see them "up close and personal" and "in the flesh", the next? But, then there's the 13 day and 20 day rules, whereby County Players are freed from inter-club championships during those periods prior to championship games and All-Ireland finals respectively, which effectively prohibits that. It's hard to see how that could be tightened up further without over-burdening the players. [I couldn't help notice the French international rugby players (I don't know if it was the same for the other international teams) playing with their clubs between the international games in the Six Nations tournament. But, they are professionals and contracted to pay with their clubs, so that's another matter entirely.
Antrim's not the only county where it's a problem. In Meath in 2007 the football club championship started on 15 April. The second match was played two months later on 24 June, after Meath's defeat to Dublin in a replay. Meath's run in the qualifiers, which took them to the All-Ireland semi-final (enough said about that!), meant that there were no further championship games until 24 August. That's just three championship games in five months. It's dispiriting and demoralizing for dedicated club players who are committed to training hard. 
Something urgently needs to be done to solve this. Maybe the Clare proposals are a good start, even if just to demonstrate that the GAA is serious about making a start to tackle the problem and give some much needed attention to the clubs. 

GAA: Unanswered Questions on the "Eligible Expenses" scheme

Of One Belief also asks some pertinent questions about the "Eligible Expenses" scheme...

"The new “Eligible Expenses” scheme is very long on the “How” (ie we get chapter and verse on the mechanics of the thing) but totally and worryingly short on the “What” (i.e. just what is going to be included in these mysterious “Eligible Expenses”). In plain GAA language it’s not good enough. GAA people at Congress in a fortnight’s time are being asked to sign a blank cheque. We were last asked to do this on 8 December last year: we all now know the narrow escape the GAA had then. There’s an old Irish saying that goes: “Fool me once, shame on you … Fool me twice, shame on me!” It seems fairly relevant here!

Let’s look at the new “scheme”. At first glance alone here are some of the problems with it:
  • Just what are “Eligible Expenses”? It’s time to show us the beef! Give us a list of what’s in and make it clear what’s out. If that fairly simple exercise can’t be done … well, why can’t it be done?

  • On whose authority is the GPA to be unilaterally introduced to important decision-making roles within the GAA?

  • Why is the GPA the only party to all this not defined in the document?

  • What are the legal liabilities for the GAA in involving a non-constituted body like the GPA in its corporate governance?

  • Will team mentors/back-room people be eligible for these “enhanced expenses”? If not, why not?

  • Ditto re people involved in inter-County Under 21 and Minor teams

  • Ditto re referees, in many ways among the most important GAA people of all

  • And what about the driver who brings County Players to training etc in his/her car: does the inter-County player then revert back to being a 50-cents-a-mile as opposed to a €1.27-a-mile burden?

  • Who’s going to handle the administrative nightmare this will introduce at County level?

  • What kind of expenses regime is it that’s performance-based? Expenses are expenses are expenses: if they’re tied in to some sort of performance-related arrangement they’re not bona fide expenses. Are we seeing a major GAA Trojan Horse here?

  • Any encouragement of pooled player travel (and another stated government policy) now goes out the window

  • Most seriously of all, after all the honeyed words about player burnout we’re now about to lever even more training/performance demands onto inter-County players: that’s simply not what we should be doing"

GAA & Grants: Who Was Right and Who Was Wrong?

The latest update from Of One Belief rightly draws attention to the utter incompetence Croke Park has demonstrated throughout this sorry affair. [My emphasis in bold].

"Now everybody knows why those promoting player grants/awards/whatever ran scared of the DRA - they knew that what they had attempted to foist on the GAA back on 8 December hadn’t a legal, let alone an ethical leg to stand on. The panicky mantra this time around about compliance with EU law shows just how close to disaster the GAA had been brought last November/December. Serious questions have to be asked about the levels of competence shown right the way through here. And those questions remain about the latest offering to an increasingly sceptical GAA membership.

If there was any doubt that "Of One Belief" and those of like mind got it exactly right late last year and Central Council got it frighteningly wrong, then the frankly embarrassing expenses denouement of 17/18 March spells it out loud and clear. Last December we were told we were scare-mongering, that we were dinosaurs/backwoodsmen/The Taliban, that all the bases had been covered, that the amateur status was "copper-fastened" by the deal. Now the "copper-fastening" scheme is in the bin (a bin we’re confident is firmly copper-fastened!) and we’re presented with a whole new scheme and a whole new language. The last batch of very nervous assurances turned out to be as worthless as the grants they applied to.

In one of Irish sport’s great ongoing turnarounds, the cash-for-elite-GAA-players terminology has been changed yet again. We’ve so far waded our way from "grants" through "awards" to "eligible expenses" (can the term "dig-out" now be all that far away?) But the outcome remains tellingly the same: inter-County GAA players will be given sizeable amounts of cash simply because they’re inter-County GAA players. That’s the one sad, unchanging fact in all of this mess.

As the morass deepens we’ve been told by our President ("Off The Ball", Newstalk, 18 March) that inter-County players, having had their GAA mileage rates already paid by their County Boards (at 50 cents a mile), can apply to have their rates topped up to Civil Service levels (at ?1.27 a mile). It’s simply unbelievable.

In one of the GAA’s most ironic twists ever, we now have the GPA -which originally rightly railed at the fact that some elite GAA officials got better mileage rates than elite GAA players - endorsing exactly the same sort of grubby discrimination they said they came forward to oppose. Principle . where are you! But then maybe part of the GPA’s well-versed "plight-of-the-inter-County-player" is being cursed with cars that are, just as a fact of life, much more expensive to run than those driven by anybody else involved in the GAA. Maybe, to steal a phrase from another person; another time; and another place, the rest of us want to try it sometime!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sunday Tribune: Some balance

Unfortunately, I only came across this article - The buck stops here - today. It was written by Kieran Shannon and appeared in the Sunday Tribune last Sunday week.

[Dear Sunday Tribune - not that I expect anyone from the Sunday Tribune to read this blog - Please update your website with the most recent articles sooner! You may also want to think about revamping your website, 'cos right now it's brutal.]

The reason why I would like to draw attention to this piece, even at this late stage (late, not only because it is over a week old, but also, as Eugene McGee points out, the "grants debate" is now effectively dead), is because it's an evenhanded look at the issue, which makes two main points.

Firstly, that the crux of the whole debate comes down to struggle or balance between "collectivism v. individualism" and so the GPA and Of One Belief both have valid points of view which should be listened to. This attitude contrasts starkly with the invective directed at Mark Conway and Of One Belief, principally in the Irish Independent. I find it hard to understand the level of scorn directed personally at Conway, rather than making any effort to understand where Of One Belief was coming from.

Secondly, that the issue was a "big one" and should, therefore, be properly debated, as other big issues, like the Ban and the opening of Croke Park, were. Alas, we have been denied that opportunity. That's something else which I fail to understand--Did Croke Park not consult the lawyers properly and so fail to understand that a "grant" was detrimental to the GAA's amateur status, or did they deliberately muddle it up so as to ensure the "grants" safe passage?

Either way, Croke Park, Nicky Brennan and Paric Duffy have let GAA members down badly.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

From Aussie Rules back to GAA

After the recent ballyhoo over AFL recruitment in Ireland and the dark prophesies of a mass exodus of the GAA's best young players to Australia it's interesting to see that Tadhg Kennelly has confirmed his plans to return to Ireland next year with the intention of winning an All-Ireland with Kerry.

Setanta declares this a sensational revelation. In any Tadhg Kennelly interview I've ever read he's always expressed his desire to return to Ireland win an All-Ireland with Kerry, as his father Tim did, so the extent of their scoop is a little exaggerated.

Tadhg's sacrifice for the glory of an All-Ireland medal is to be admired. He's going to give-up the successful career he's built with the Syndey Swans--along with the glorious sunshine and the quality lifestyle downunder.

A brave move and one we should admire. I can't help thinking though that it it is Kerry he is returning to, so the odds of doing a celebratory jig in the Kingdom's colours are not exactly stacked against him. Returning and winning Sam with Mayo, now that would be heroic.

Still, fair play to Tadhg.