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6 December 2007 Edition

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Matt Treacy Column

Matt Treacy

Matt Treacy

Gaelic: A  game of two tiers

TULLAMORE last Sunday provided ample proof of the adage that hurling is not a winter sport. To use that other terrible cliché, it was “a game of two halves”, with the wind the dominant factor in the Leinster Clubs Final between Ballyboden and Birr.
Ballyboden seemed to have made the right decision by playing into the gale when holding Birr to a couple of points entering the last five minutes of the first half. Then a Paul O’Meara goal, engineered by Brian Whelehan, contributed to the Offaly team going in at the break nine points to the good.
Aided by the elements, Ballyboden laid siege to the Birr goal, scoring eight points without reply to leave them just a point behind. Birr had few attacks but were able to score two points late-on that gave them the breathing space to hold out as the Dublin champions came back at them towards the end, again narrowing the margin to the minimum.
Twice Ballyboden had close-in frees that they might have been better advised to try for the goal that would probably have won it for them. Then, at the very death, a David Sweeney sideline seemed to have been deflected out by a Birr stick but was waved wide. The referee blew up from the puck-out.
Ballyboden have done well in their first-ever year as Dublin champions but it will be Birr who go on to attempt to win a record fifth All-Ireland, having become the first team to win seven Leinsters – a remarkable testament to a remarkable club.
In Munster, Loughmore Castleiney of Tipperary won their first Munster title by overcoming Tulla of Clare. The other provincial champions are Dunloy of Antrim and Portumna of Galway. Portumna won the All-Ireland two years ago and with Joe Canning to the fore are already odds-on to repeat that feat.

Last week saw a resolution of the dispute involving the Gaelic Players’ Association over the issue of grants. €3.5m will be made available (payable through the Sports Council) to players who satisfy agreed criteria. The only players guaranteed to receive the grant are those who are part of the 30-strong panels for the 12 counties contesting the Senior Hurling championship and the 12 teams that reach the third round of the football qualifiers.
The lesser counties (which in effect means 60 per cent of those entering all senior competitions) will be subject to different criteria. These will include players having to attend at least 80 per cent of training sessions and matches and to more or less prove their ‘commitment’. Already there is a distinction between two tiers of inter-county players. So much, it might seem, for a lot of the talk about the Louth hurlers meaning as much to the GPA as the Cork hurlers. And, of course, the poor women who play senior camogie and ladies’ football get nothing.
Interestingly, there has been somewhat of a backlash with a meeting organised for this Wednesday (5 December) – hours after I write this column – in the Elk, Toome, to discuss how the whole thing is perceived by ordinary GAA members. Among those said to be supporting this is former GAA President Peter Quinn.
Eugene McGee, perhaps in a spirit of reductio ad absurdum, has suggested that the 300,000 club players should form their own association to demand that the GAA pays more attention to their plight. Well, perhaps ‘plight’ is putting it a bit strongly but there are rumblings of discontent in many counties about the manner in which club competitions are run.
It is not unusual, as McGee says, for club teams to go as long as three months without matches during the summer because of delays due to one thing or another. Mainly this is because teams who have county players who are committed to the county team as long as they remain in the championship can continually ask for games to be deferred until those players are available.
In Dublin this year, along with a new system of regional teams comprised of Intermediate and Junior players allowed enter the Senior Hurling Championship, this meant that there was virtually no adult activity at hurling level for the entire summer. The Junior B League remains to be completed and unless it is run off over the Christmas break then it will probably not be finished. No doubt the same situation exists elsewhere.
McGee’s solution is that the restrictions on county players be liberalised. He suggests that if a club player is on a county panel then he not be allowed play for his club for eight days. Beyond that, the county would have no claim on him and the club no excuse. That would certainly free up a lot more time in which competitions could be played and ensure that the best days of the year are not frittered away.
Curiously, the report of Dublin Secretary John Costello refers to the problem of club fixtures but without mentioning the inter-county factor. Instead he places most blame on clubs requesting postponements for “very frivolous reasons”, including, it would appear, players going away for stag weekends!
The committee responsible for organising competitions is calling for a review of the availability of county players but also makes the reasonable point that some of those defending the exclusion of county players were loudest in their criticism of the Central Competitions Committee for not keeping to fixture lists.
Similar reports and debates are taking place in most counties. Indeed, such matters are of far more importance to most GAA members than the grants issue although they are not totally unrelated. The bottom line is that the GAA needs to be putting the interests of the majority of its members first and that begins with the administration of games at club level.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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