Super 8 Proposal
Mark TownsendSports

SUPER 8 DECISION ANOTHER 2 FINGERED SALUTE TO PLAYERS

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Well, they did it. We warned them not to do it. We told them not to. We asked politely, then sternly, but they still went ahead and did it anyway. People eh? You can’t trust them. If there is one lesson history has taught us, it’s to never underestimate the stupidity of the public. People like Coldplay and voting for the Nazis. People voted for Brexit. They elected Trump. And now, just when you thought we might actually be the last bastion of sensibility in the Western World, the GAA voted for the Super 8.

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past few days, the super 8 proposals are to replace the existing football championship quarter finals with a round robin of 2 groups of 4. The idea is to have more top class inter-county games come summer time, and simultaneously, and somewhat perversely, free up more time for club action.

Of course, despite their stated aims said proposals weren’t so well received by some. When they were presented to the 2 leading players organizations, the CPA (Club Players Association) and GPA (Gaelic Players Association), they were roundly rejected. But still and all, GAA congress, in their infinite wisdom, decided to go ahead with them anyway.

Needless to say, the twitter reaction to said decision wasn’t positive. Donegal’s Eamon McGee was one of the first to tweet “The level of disrespect shown to both club and county GAA players today is staggering” Clare’s Podge Collins went even further in his criticism: “Players club & county don’t agree but who gives a f**k about them. It generates more $ & who cares about developing weaker counties” Perhaps the most pertinent comment of all came from Meath’s Kevin Reilly “70% of players rejected #Super8 proposal, 76% of delegates supported it. Theres a serious disconnect here…”.

So if 70% of players are against a proposal why would 76% of the delegates be for it? Well, as the singer Meja once said, it’s all about the money (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcXMhwF4EtQ) When officers were invited to speak on the topic at the congress, 11 spoke in favour of the motion whereas only 2 dissenting voices were heard.

The decision is one big F you though to players wishes. They asked for a sofa, but they were given a lamp. But hey, we’ll have some great games when we get to the quarter-finals. Sure the Dubs will get into the last 8 won’t they? Ah the Dubs, the Dubs…everybody loves the Dubs don’t they? Come August 2018 everyone will forget about this whole little charade once they see the Dubs a couple of times in a full house in Croker. Forget the begrudgers, just look at the cash flow baby.

But what about Carlow? And Fermanagh? And Longford? And Leitrim? The “so-called” ….no, not so called…. the ACTUAL weak counties? What are you going to do for them? Sure 8 teams will get extra games in Summer but there’s at least 75% of the competition, the ones who need games most, who won’t get any. It’s said that you can judge a society by how it treats its weakest members. Well in the GAA, they’ve just cut the funding for the sick and disabled in the budget. And in the meantime, they’ve ignored the wishes of the club players they’ve been saying they care so much about.

The players? Sure, who gives a damn about them. What does it matter that the CPA and the GPA came out strongly against this motion? They’re only the guys performing the show.  They’re only the people that everyone is paying all the money to see. But if their wishes are not going to be adhered to, what is there left for them to do?

Strike? Well, I know that’s not the way we do things around here. It’s the GAA for god sake, it’s not France. Strikes are the kind of thing that ingrates and SIPTU (or ingrates from SIPTU) get up to. Then again, the way that club players, and now, county players, in 24 counties have been treated makes you think that something has to be done. Militant action has been organized for far less egregious offences than this (Yes, I’m looking at you Cork)

I was looking at the National hurling league games last Sunday and while I enjoyed them, there was a part of me that couldn’t get my head around one, I thought, fundamental problem. Why the hell is this competition being played in February?

Here we have top class teams playing against each other on a regular basis, and yet it’s in the worst conditions. The league is the best competition we have. Yet it’s put on at the worst time. Why isn’t the League the primary competition? Players want more games during prime time in Summer. But the GAA give them it, in the mud in February. The format of the National Hurling leagues, group 1A and 1B, could easily be modified or used as a basis for an All-Ireland championship.

There have been numerous suggestions as to how the football championship could be improved. Jim McGuinness came up with one of the most articulate and well thought out ones in his Irish times column last year http://www.irishtimes.com/sport/gaelic-games/jim-mcguinness-how-i-would-reinvigorate-football-championship-1.2241993 Something akin to the current National League format could also work, where all 4 divisions could battle to provide teams to a last 16 or last 8. While it’s obvious that people want strong teams in the latter stages of the competition, the incentive has to be there for teams from Division 3 and Division 4 to progress.

All of this comes to a stumbling block though when the age old provincial championships come into view. These systems are hopelessly archaic. While the Ulster football Championship still thrives, Leinster has been dying on its feet for years. Munster and Connacht are also only moderately competitive, but surely a system where one competition contains 9 or 11 counties and another 5 or 6 Is not equitable.

It also ignores the fact we’ve already had one provincial championship this year called The Walsh/McGrath/O’Byrne cup. If the GAA really wanted to they could make a de facto provincial/early season championship earlier on in the season. And, ironically enough, these tournaments are structured in a more rational way than the provincial championships themselves, where sides play every week.  

Instead of this what the GAA do is put on the provincial championships in the summer with massive gaps in between. Win that lads, and you’ll get a great reward: no games for 5 weeks. What are you complaining about that being too long of a break between matches? Sure can’t you get everyone back from the States for a couple of weeks to play a few club games in between? Actually no, best not to risk it.

The knockout championship has been the corner stone of inter-county GAA for years. But in an environment where sides are training harder than ever, the need for more games in the summer is evident, and not just for the “Super 8”. In every other logical country that’s what would happen.

But this is not logic we’re talking about. This is the GAA. And in the GAA all logic is lost the minute euro signs are flashed before administrator’s eyes. You see, we used to think that they were a stickler for tradition, but that’s really not the case. It’s quite willing to bend traditions, if they think they can make enough money from it. The grab all association moniker never feels more apt.

Now I know that every organization needs to generate money. That’s how you run something. But why can’t we have a league based system where teams are playing every week or two in the spring/summer? In other words let players play top class competition in the time most conducive to playing it. Sure, you’re always going to have the majority of places taken by stronger sides in the latter stages. That’s only fair, but throw in a few wild card slots from Divisions 3 and 4 and you’ve got something that can appease everyone. Don’t give some counties (eg Ulster champions) 7 or 8 arduous games and the others only 2 or 3. And from August on, let club players play their games. Because in all the rush to slate the GAA for the Super 8, we can at least give them credit for the All-Ireland finals being pushed back and replays being eradicated.

The biggest problem to me seems to be that the GAA is trying to make minor adjustments to the fixtures, when in reality the house needs to be knocked down and started again. And it seems absolutely ridiculous to dictate what players are going to do without giving them any voice in the matter. There are smart people in the GPA and CPA that need to be listened to. But in order to make this omelette a few eggs (like provincial championships/early season competitions) are going to have to be broken.

Either way, it’s obvious from the reaction players are not happy. And while administrators have their own job to do, essentially, they are the ones we are turning up to see. The obligation therefore, is to give them what they want. Players are voicing their dissent now, and this is going to create even more problems. I don’t know exactly what is going to happen, but something has to. Otherwise the GAA risks ruining this great organization they’ve spent the last 130 years creating.

Mark Townsend

 


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