Get out of the fire and into the frying pan

IF YOU are a member of the GAA, chances are a letter flopped onto your hallway mat in the last few weeks, one which began with A Chara and ended with Is Mise Le Meas. Chances are — unless you were extraordinarily unlucky — it wasn’t a communication from the Civil Service asking about your expenses docket from a nail bar in Florida.

The letter was an invitation to your club’s annual general meeting. Such meetings can move easily from the mortal plane to the zone of legend — a favoured memory of this column is the man who accused junior selectors at one AGM of being unable “to pick a snot white” — and are often
approached from a well-fortified
vantage point, if we can be delicate. The niceties of GAA procedure are known to very few people, and the
articulation of club policy can be a
difficult process. Its enforcement is a whole other set of problems.

Thunderous denunciations are not unknown at these gatherings, and
neither is the tendency to ‘go again’, with many officers being returned
unopposed to positions they have held for many years. At some AGMs progress is confused with revolving
officerships, much as the members of a volleyball team move around after
conceding a score with no real difference in personnel.

It’s easy to complain about seeing the same old faces at the top table in your GAA club, but much as we complain about seeing the same old faces in
Leinster House, if you don’t participate in the democratic process it lowers the moral high ground somewhat when you come to criticise.

The same principle applies to the GAA club. It’s often overlooked that in many cases those same old faces would be more than happy to hand on the reins to others. Every GAA club in Ireland is staffed with men who swore blind going out the door to the agm that This Was It, only to slink back home and confess to their family that yes, they were prevailed upon, for one more year/just to tide everyone over/to give the club a dig-out — and stay on as secretary/treasurer/registrar.

Such news is usually greeted with ample proof that thunderous denunciations are not confined to the AGM proper.

This year such meetings should be better attended than ever. The GAA faces serious challenges from within and without like never before — or not since we all got middle-class thanks to the Celtic tiger, anyway.

There are tensions within the
organisation, at all levels, and the
economic downturn is likely to ask some searching questions of the
Association as a whole.

While there’s an obvious attraction in staying near the fire with your DVD box set of The Wire Season Five (Will Bubbles be able to stay off the dope?), try to resist that urge. Go to your club AGM. Get involved in the debate: ask your officers and delegates questions, or better yet, stand for office. Take some responsibility.

The rewards are not immediately visible. The prospect of giving up a couple of nights a week to sit in a draughty room debating whether or not to suspend young Murphy for
giving cheek to his uncle at an under-15 game seems daunting. and it is.

But if you are a member of the GAA you reaped the benefits of other men’s work when you were younger, the men who gave up their nights to make sure there was a game on a Saturday. True, we’d all like to think that there were no competing attractions for our spare time back in the 80s, but even then those officers had lives to lead
beyond the committee room.

It’s the good fight. As Tom Cruise said in The Firm, it’s not sexy but it’s got teeth. They may be false teeth, but you get the picture.

After all, the GAA isn’t a stadium. It’s not a provincial final, or a bunch of men in suits at a press conference. It’s not a woolly concept or a secret known only to select initiates.

It’s you.

Go to the annual meeting and do your best. At the very least, don’t settle for the same old story.

You can see where that’s gotten us.


The gods make
their own

Nickey Brennan: says the GAA won’t be getting involved in Cork dispute.

PATRICK KAVANAGH could have offered the right description of the Cork hurling crisis, the kind of local row which sparked the Illiad in Homer’s mind.

That undersells the newsprint and airtime generated this time round, of course — this instalment of the row has sparked enough chat and observation to fill the Odyssey as well, and you’d have a fair chance of completing the word count for the Aeneid while you’re at it.

Everybody has an opinion on the matter they’re willing to share, and
it’s unfortunate that some of those
offerings aren’t entirely helpful.

Take a step back from the immediate combatants and consider some of the contributions from the GAA
hierarchy in recent weeks.

Last week Director-General Paraic Duffy described the contretemps on Leeside as relating to local circumstances rather than being a national trend.

President Nickey Brennan concurred and expanded: “From a GAA perspective, that’s a local Cork issue now and they’ll have to deal with it locally. . . what happened earlier this year is well known. We got involved and we’re not getting involved on this occasion.”

Too late. The world’s most eagerly anticipated challenge game, the St Colman’s Legends v Cork match fixed for November 23rd, has fallen by the wayside due to the new GAA ban on all collective inter-county activity,
including training and challenge games, during the months of November and December. Could that be read as involvement?

The chairman of the Central
Competitions Control Committee (CCCC), Jimmy Dunne, said on Wednesday night: “A number of counties have applied to play challenge matches during this so-called closed season and all those requests were turned down by the CCCC.”

The timing of the announcement is particularly unfortunate, given that Nickey Brennan insisted only last week that the fixture in Fermoy would be exempt from the new
ruling: “We are allowing trial games on a limited basis and we are viewing this match as a trial game.

“This is very much a special occasion which is being played to honour the considerable contribution of St Colman’s College to hurling in Cork. We are taking the spirit of why the game is being played into account.”

The reasoning behind the playing and training ban — to lessen the threat of player burnout — is an irony that need not delay us here unduly.

What is worth examining is whether the GAA hierarchy are sure if this is a total ban or not, whether they have any appetite for enforcing it, or whether — as it seems — this is an ad hoc arrangement with guidelines
being improvised on the hoof. Whichever it is, it seems strange that the President of the GAA is making statements affirming that certain games are going ahead while one of the most powerful committees in the Association is ruling out those matches.

We’ve had those contradictions served up before. Last December Nickey Brennan commented on the last stand-off in Cork GAA circles, saying: “This is an internal situation for Cork which we are not getting
involved in.

“We believe that there are enough wise heads on both sides to sort the matter out and I would be very
confident that the matter will be
resolved quite soon.”

By early February Brennan had asked Kieran Mulvey of the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) to intervene in the dispute, a move which, in fairness, eventually led to the strike being resolved.

In the meantime, at the time of going to press yesterday St Colman’s had not received any official contact from Croke Park regarding the postponement of the game, while on Wednesday night Cork County Board chairman Mick Dolan admitted that he was in the dark regarding the fixture.

Kavanagh was right when he said gods make their own importance.


Tony Leen

Challenge may leave

YESTERDAY morning this column spent some time in the company of Gus

Kelleher, Denis Coakley and Garvin Queeney, teachers at St Colman’s

College in Fermoy.

They started their preparations for next Sunday, and the St Colman’s 150th
anniversary game against Cork, months ago, and up to a few weeks ago it looked
like a nice winter diversion.

As of now they look to have organised the Most Anticipated Challenge Match Of
All Time for this weekend.

However, there can’t be any debate about whether this game should be

going ahead or not. The moratorium on inter-county activity in the months of
November and December which was announced earlier this year was
and unambiguous.

It also came with warnings attached: GAA director-general Paraic Duffy said
at the time that if the close season
directive were ignored, then sanctions
would be forthcoming. He said: “If a manager insists on going ahead we would
deal with that if it happened.”

That, presumably, was behind the CCCC decision to call the game off,
announced in this newspaper last Thursday.

It was one occasion on which a politic, discreet deferral would have been a
godsend. It would have given time to cool matters down in Cork and given some
valuable breathing space to all concerned, and an alternative date could have
been found for the game, say, in early January. If the dispute still lingered
then fair enough: everybody could take their chances.

Within a day, however, it transpired that the game was going ahead after all.
GAA President Nickey Brennan had said previously that the game was a “special
event”, and that was the
reasoning behind the reversal, which tabloid custom
demands we call
“a sensational/dramatic u-turn”.

The GAA’s initial policy decision was aimed at avoiding player burnout; bear
that in mind when considering that if a Glen Rovers U21 plays on Sunday it will
be his 10th weekend in a row on the field of play. Some player welfare.

The Association’s volte face has also given rise to an entirely different
form of burnout, this one involving fibre-
optic cables and mobile phone
batteries. A welter of calls have been made in the Cork area in the last week —
between selectors and potential players and
between potential players and

established players.

In a nutshell, promising youngsters are being invited to play senior hurling
for Cork, knowing that in some
instances their own teammates are

vehemently against that idea.

What does that mean? Trouble.
Consider it from this perspective: If a
‘new’ player lines out for Cork on
Sunday, what happens when that player
goes back to his club the following week and sits in the same dressing-
as another player who asked him not to play in that game?

Unfortunately, neither Nickey Brennan nor Paraic Duffy will be on hand to
sort out any problems that arise as a
result. As one close observer of the
Cork scene pointed out to this writer during the week, those problems are likely
to arise in training sessions and low-key league games, far from the hot glare
of publicity, and that poison will linger for a generation of players.



WHY DID nobody in Croke Park think of that? Given the fact that the Cork
hurlers missed out on national hurling league fixtures last season, the GAA
hierarchy surely didn’t think the prospect of missing a challenge game would
send those players back into their training bibs?

While it is understood that the Cork County Board was anxious that the game
would go ahead despite the
current stand-off, surely those at the top of the
GAA tree could have prevailed upon them to abide by the original CCCC decision.

As it is, those players and selectors who take the field for Cork in Sunday’s
game are liable for suspensions for breaching the moratorium. And despite the
talk of a development squad earlier in the week, this is a Cork team.

Recently, comments were reported from the county board to the effect that it
had never been intended to include members of this season’s Cork hurling squad
anyway for the St Colman’s game. Nonsense: otherwise 25 members of the 2008 Cork
hurling squad would not have been contacted about that same game a couple of
weeks ago.

Ironically, though the Cork County Board might be grateful to be rid of their
troublesome priests through retirement and banishment, it should consider that
if the “development squad” is suspended for breaching the moratorium, who will
be left to line out in the red jersey next year?