This International Rules series between Ireland and Australia returned in 2013 to much publicity. This long run initiative between the G.A.A and the A.F.L has come into question in recent times and this year the questions resurfaced when we saw the first ever big club –v- country debate in the G.A.A.
It’s a regular debate in soccer but things escalated quite quickly for the G.A.A in 2013 and in all honestly I felt it simply exposed the biggest problem in the G.A.A.
In terms of the series itself I really do question its significance but I do understand that it is the one opportunity for players to represent their country in our national games. Before a ball had been kicked in 2013, the series was dominated by the availability or potential unavailability of players. Club commitments nearly deprived Ireland of a number of high profile players and much of the talk was based around the difficult position that some of these players had been put in as a result of this fixture pile up.
The main player in question was Donegal’s Michael Murphy, who captained the Irish side but also had a county final with his club, Glenswilly, on the same weekend as the first test. Different people had different views on Murphy’s decision but overall this situation provided further evidence of one thing and one thing only, the shambolic treatment of club players in the G.A.A. As fans of G.A.A we witnessed a brilliant intercounty hurling season and an interesting football season, but the intercounty scene simply papers over the cracks of a huge problem in gaelic games.
The prestige of intercounty G.A.A is at an all-time high. Players have an opportunity to showcase their talents in front of 80,000 spectators at Croke Park. There is a lot of fame and attention involved in being an intercounty hurler or footballer in the modern era. The game is growing continuously but the foundations of the G.A.A are being sacrificed as a result. People tend to forget that intercounty G.A.A cannot exist without the input of clubs. Clubs provide players for these teams and the club game is also growing at a similar rate in terms of expectations from players in their commitment and performance.
I fully accept that the intercounty scene is the pinnacle of the G.A.A and it should get preference ahead of the club game. It provides the majority of the finances for the G.A.A and it has an integral value. Despite this, the situation in club championships is getting worse and worse by the year and the hierarchy in the G.A.A appear to be doing little or nothing to solve the issue. Eugene McGee’s latest FRC report is the first words or potential actions of any sort and I think this should be a priority for the G.A.A moving forward.
Nowadays club teams train as often as intercounty sides with very little reward. There is very little media coverage, no player welfare bodies and most importantly no set fixture list. At this rate a lot of club teams begin training in January and find themselves still playing games in November-December and often, three months of summer can pass with playing any meaningful championship games. The system simply doesn’t add up. In my county, the intermediate football championship finished on the 8th of December and there was another scenario where the senior county hurling final was put back by a week, due to players from the intermediate county final being involved in the International Rules. It’s ludicrous how these scenarios are allowed to occur.
A lot of blame is being laid with intercounty managers. It’s easy to point the finger but the power allowed to intercounty management in some counties is outrageous. Despite all of this, the intercounty fixture list set out by the G.A.A is even worse. Clubs rarely see players during the National Leagues and it often occurs that their first game for their clubs can be the first round of championship. In some counties, club championship doesn’t even begin until county teams have been eliminated for the championship which drags out the season even longer and it could often be a case of a team playing five games in five weeks in October or November. And this year we saw club championships being put back even further as a result of the International Rules series.
It’s quite contradictory from the G.A.A. They are insistent on preventing the game turning professional yet money and greed are putting a threat to the G.A.A maintaining their amateur ethos. It’s a tough position for the players but the G.A.A should never allow this scenario to happen in the first place. Some blame does lie with county boards that club championships are still on at this stage but in an awful lot of cases, their hands are tied regarding fixtures. The intercounty fixture list and also intercounty management dictate when clubs fixtures are fulfilled. It’s nothing short of disgraceful that some players can play a first round championship game as early as April-May and then not play their next round until September-October.
The extent to which the intercounty season is spread out is totally unnecessary and it has a knock on effect on many aspects within the association. A change in structure must come in and a shorter season must also be introduced to treat our club players in a fairer and more practical way. The amount of club games that have had to go back further as a result of the international rules series simply isn’t fair. There are some players who were due to play one weekend and had to wait a further three weeks to play in certain cases. Even take a look at the world’s biggest sporting event, the soccer World Cup. The whole event is played out within a month. Yet the G.A.A can allow teams to have five weeks off in the middle of a season, and in some cases these five weeks could commence without any club fixtures. I would go as far to call it a farce.
People ask the question as to why we lose players to soccer and rugby from a young age. People come up with different reasons but for me the primary reason boils down to the fact that rugby, soccer and other sports provide a set regime. Players in other sports know exactly when they’re training and playing matches. They can then plan holidays or other activities in the knowledge that things won’t clash with their respective sport. The G.A.A cannot, or should I say, doesn’t provide this and if a solution isn’t found, participation rates will fall and we could be left with a very bleak future. It’s a problem that is getting worse and unless work is done to improve the situation we may see Croke Park in a different light in the future.