THE GAA is bailing the Government out, investing its own resources in recreational facilities and contributing to the personal development of young people. That’s according to county board secretary, Pat Fitzgerald in the report he will present to convention next week.
“I would go so far as to say that successive governments are abdicating its responsibilities in this respect, shifting the onus over to voluntary organisations. County boards are doing what various Government departments are not,” he says. “Clare GAA has been criticised ad nauseam but its value to the fabric and social development of virtually every community in the county cannot be underestimated.”
Referring to the winds of change that swept through Clare this year, he says “What was very significant was the changing of the landscape in Caherlohan, on the Tulla–Clooney parish boundary, when machinery eventually moved on site to commence work on the development of the board’s ambitious €5 million sports academy and training base”.
He says the Caherlohan development is a “massive financial undertaking in a time of economic depression, yet the thank you Clare GAA has received in turn by way of funding [from the Government], as regards the project, is zilch”.
“Without the €1.8m contribution from Croke Park, we would have had to self-fund the project, something I believe in the current climate would have been virtually impossible but I believe we, the clubs and the people of Clare, will rise to the challenge. There’s tremendous goodwill towards the association at county level and such positivity will, I believe, enable us to bring the project to fruition.
“Designed by consultant engineer Niall Fitzgerald, the project incorporates seven grass pitches, one all-weather pitch, six dressing rooms, a referees’ room, a catering area, car parking facilities and covered standing accommodation for 1,500 patrons. Four of the seven grass pitches will be floodlit, as will the all-weather facility. A running track, a gymnasium and a hurling alley are also included in the greater scheme of things with work on the construction of the dressing rooms planned for early in the new year. Given the downturn in the economy, the tendering process was quite competitive and eventually the contract was awarded to Michael Boland of Boland Civil Engineering Contractors in Kilbaha. He was able to employ a team of some 20 workers during the initial stages of the project, a crucial aspect given that employment opportunities are at a premium.
“His team of workers made the most of the benign weather conditions in early October to prepare one of the proposed grass pitches for seeding and the shoots have already appeared above ground level,” according to the Clare secretary.
Struggling for survival
The secretary also highlights the fact that the survival of many clubs is being threatened because of emigration, as reported in The Clare Champion recently.
“Some rural clubs in the county, in a perennial struggle for survival, now fear woes of a more monumental nature – their very existence and identity. What had been a trickle of young players heading abroad to find employment has now turned into a steady exodus as the economic crunch continues to hold the country in a vice-like grip.”
He explains a county board survey showed in the last three years alone, over 200 players have emigrated. “Recently, in Shannon Airport, the extent of the problem facing clubs was graphically illustrated when no fewer than 17 players from three clubs in North Clare boarded flights for foreign destinations.”
He states the findings of the survey showed there was a 3% increase in emigration figures from 2008 to 2009, while this jumped dramatically to 15% in the last 12 months.
“It is not overemphasising the point to state that this represents a catastrophe for a great percentage of clubs because the loss of even a handful of established players can undermine a club, particularly small rural clubs with small catchments. Furthermore, there is no club that isn’t and won’t be affected, particularly in the next six months when a lot more are expected to leave.
“Against the backdrop locally, the Gaelic Players’ Association has also admitted that 15% of inter-county players are unemployed, which is 2% higher than the national average.”
Fitzgerald describes as “worrying” the admission that the GPA is coming under increasing pressure to deal with claims under its benevolent fund scheme.
“That is a very worrying development because, if players with a profile can’t find employment, what hope has an ordinary club player? Going back the years, there have always been GAA units who have secured jobs for profile players and normally with employers with a strong leaning towards the GAA.
“Last year, we appointed a committee to try and source employment opportunities for players seeking work. Thankfully, we had some success but obviously not to the extent we would have hoped for. That committee is still in existence and have redoubled their efforts. Currently we are formulating an action plan on the basis of the feedback from the survey but the reality is that the job opportunities just aren’t out there.
“It behoves us all to do our best and maybe, as an association, we could be more proactive. There are several ways they can find revenue and several ways in which they could directly employ players. One such way would be through an enlarged coaching programme. Players could be engaged in conducting coaching through the schools and while this would provide them with subsistence income, it would also help promote the games,” he suggests.
Turning to football, Fitzgerald states, “There is a widely held view that Clare football is where it is because of apathy by the executive of the county board. Many argue that football is and always has been the poor relation when it comes to county board attitude and that hurling is given priority. Laying the blame entirely at the doorstep of the county board is well wide of the mark. Where we can be criticised is in our failure to plan for the future, to prepare a visionary document for the rehabilitation of Clare football.
“The clubs and the players cannot exonerate themselves either. Some players have refused to answer Clare’s call, while some clubs put their own interests first and have withdrawn players from county panels to concentrate on the domestic championships.”
The secretary states that no expense is spared with the preparation of county teams. However, he says it doesn’t and shouldn’t boil down to monetary matters and what the board is or isn’t willing to spend.
“The blame game cannot go on ad nauseam. We have to give the lead from the top table. What we need is a meeting of heads, a collective gathering of all sides and the preparation of a vision document going forward,” he says, pointing out that Tipperary have a 10-year plan, while Cork are working on the formation of their own plan.
“In Clare, we need to act and formulate our own blueprint because it’s a given fact that if we don’t put structures and policies in place, we will be left behind.”
He notes that this year, the Football Supporters Club and Bord na nÓg Peil combined resources for the appointment of two additional coaches, in addition to the full-time coaches employed by the county board.
The secretary also addresses the issue of video technology in his report.
“Getting the big calls wrong in high-profile games is criminal but, unfortunately, it has become part and parcel of our games. Referees, like us all, are prone to human error and may feel persecuted given the frequency they are put under the spotlight. They get a split second to make a judgement call and then they have to live by their decisions whether the correct one or not. If it’s the latter, big games end up being blighted by bad calls and debatable scores.
“Naturally, such incidents have turned the spotlight back on match officials and have led to renewed calls for the GAA to permit the use of video technology. While such incidents maybe a rare enough occurrence, the question has to be posed whether or not we embrace modern technology to eliminate same.”
He points out that video refereeing is used in sports such as rugby, tennis and cricket and asks, why not the GAA?
“I think everyone will agree that the preparation of our games, played by amateurs, has become very professional. Recourse and retrospective use of technology and video evidence should be availed of to adjudicate on controversial incidents. Most modern stadia are fitted with up-to-date facilities and there are no problems with logistics and infrastructure. All that is required is a willingness on the part of the GAA to embrace the concept. Arguments that reverting to the video referee will punctuate the game and lead to a stop-start nature, is nonsense. It will only take 30 seconds for the studio referee to make a definite call. It eliminates all ambiguity and no team then will have grounds to feel aggrieved when the correct call is given,” he says.
Trial by television
The secretary highlights the precedent of using video evidence was set several years ago when the authorities went beyond the report of the referee, which previously was sacrosanct, to upgrade initial sanctions after resorting to trial by television.
He states, “So it continues to the present day, the practice where referees are being asked to review decisions taken by them in the course of the game if the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) believes there are grounds for upgrading the penalty.
“What cannot be disputed is that whether intentionally or not, the mere suggestion that a referee reconsider and take a fresh look at his report is a subtle suggestion that something is amiss. It places a certain element of doubt in the mind of the match official.”
Fitzgerald claims in many cases, calls for the referee to review his handling of a game are being coloured by the dissecting of incidents by panels of external experts.
“During the championship season, trial by television is now a weekly phenomenon, as the experts don’t have to adjudicate that split second but can rewind the tape and review the incident before delivering a final verdict. Several players have suffered at the hands of the expert panelists. What is wrong is that external interests are now becoming the arbiter. It’s wrong because not all games are televised and it lacks consistency. Analysis and comment is fine but the panel shouldn’t be influencing the CCCC to act. In the interests of fair play, if television footage is being used to condemn people of wrong doing, it should also be used to exonerate who have been punished inadvertently. The problem is where does one draw the line?” he asks.
Fitzgerald says he would hate to see the end of the inter-provincial championships.
“There’s no doubt but I have a great grá for the inter-provincial championships. They are part of our tradition and heritage and I would hate to see their demise. In their wisdom, Central Council decided earlier this year to scrap this year’s competition. That move alone has created an uncertain future and my fear is that once pushed to one side, they may never be resurrected.
“It is almost a decade since Cooraclare native Martin Donnelly started to bank-roll the championships to a conservative estimate of €500,000, even going as far as bringing finals abroad in the hope of rekindling interest among the diaspora. The latest decision must be a big disappointment to his generosity over the years.
“However, as one who has been outspoken in the lack of planning and marketing of the championships, Donnelly accepted that the one-year suspension of the inter-pros was ok as long as the year was used to put a proper plan in place for proper marketing. From what has unfolded in the past few years, one has to question if the will is really there to save these championships. In my opinion, the inter-pros have been on a stay of execution and making the break this year may well sound their death-knell,” he predicts.
Clare always playing catch up
Fitzgerald also looks at the length of the Clare championships in his report.
“It seems Clare is always playing catch up, pushing up against deadlines on a consistent basis in order to have the champions declared for the Munster club,” he says.
“This year, both Crusheen and Killanena had a week to celebrate their first titles in their respective grades before facing into Munster club action. Such a short turnaround is insufficient, particularly if injuries are picked up. For the past few years, clubs and the county board have been left frustrated by the elongated club season, yet there doesn’t seem to be a genuine effort to fast-track the championship.
“Last year’s championship took seven months to complete, with the final played in November. This year’s campaign started in May and concluded the end of October. It’s still dragged out over a period of six months.
“However, there are two solutions to the problems – change the format or reduce the number of teams in senior with a pro-rata reduction down the line. Perhaps it’s time for the hard calls. A more ruthless approach may be required from the board in trimming the number of senior teams, many of whom are content to be a club of senior status without real aspirations. That pruning could be based on a database of results and performances over the past five years. I think it is certainly a subject worth broaching once more,” he concludes.
Sixmilebridge seek new championship format
AT next week’s convention, Sixmilebridge will propose a new format for the Clare Senior Hurling Championship.
They will ask that the domestic league and championship be combined and broken into two groups of 10, with two semi-finalists from the previous year’s competition in each group and the remaining eight teams in each drawn. Each team will play the other in the group and the league final will be played between the top team in each group.
For the championship, the teams that finish first and second in each group will qualify directly for the quarter-final. Two knock-out games will then determine the other four quarter-finalists. The winners of the play-off games will be placed in one bowl with the four direct quarter-finalists in the other for the quarter-final draw.
The intermediate, junior A and junior B league and championships would be run on a similar programme, although participating numbers would differ. In the intermediate league there would be just one group of 13 teams.
A motion from Kilmaley also calls for change in the format of the senior hurling championship. They ask that “where the scoring difference rule could be potentially used to decide teams that qualify from groups in all club championships, these groups should be made up of an even number of teams with the final round of games played at the same time”. Currently there are four groups of five teams competing in the championship.
Meanwhile, O’Callaghan’s Mills will propose that the senior hurling championship format with the same numbers of teams as pertained in 2010 be retained for next year.
Ennistymon Football Club will ask for the setting up of a joint fixtures committee for adult and juvenile competitions.
Sixmilebridge will propose that “both the football and hurling senior county team managements and their team programme be formally reviewed annually by a committee comprising the county board chairman and two ex-inter-county players with this committee to co-opt a fourth member with relevant experience”.
Miltown, St Joseph’s want the age limit for minor football and hurling changed to 19. They will also call on the president to establish a task force to promote the Railway Cups.
It will be interesting to hear the reaction of club delegates to a proposal from Miltown, which asks that the names of players be put on jerseys for county senior teams in the senior championship and national league.
O’Callaghan’s Mills want a change in the format of the U-21 hurling championship to allow the beaten finalists in Munster and Leinster re-enter the quarter-finals for the All-Ireland championship against Galway and the Ulster champions. The ’Mills will also call on the GAA “to reduce its admission prices for games in 2011 due to the current economic climate, which this country finds itself in”.
Ruan will ask that the current rule whereby voluntary GAA officers are obliged to step down after holding a position for five years be amended to allow the said officer be entitled to seek a nomination and be elected to that same office after a further five-year period has elapsed from the original stepping down date.
Éire Óg, Newmarket and Cratloe all call for an end to the practice of appointing home referees for junior B league games.
Lissycasey will ask that competition at U-12 level be re-instated, while Ruan will ask that the match referee be honoured when the champions of 25 years previous are honoured on county final day. Cratloe want players involved in county senior panels released for domestic league games, while Sixmilebridge want extra time played in all U-21 hurling championship games that end in a draw.
Scariff will ask that senior clubs be allowed, subject to the approval of and conditions set down by Clare County Board, get player assistance to a maximum of three players from intermediate or junior clubs for the purpose of entering a team in the senior hurling championship and Clare Champion Cup.