what’s wrong with the gaa

Before you read this post, please be sure that I am 100% aware that Dublin were totally outclassed by Kerry in every aspect of the game last Monday.

There’s nothing that can take away from that. However, call it sour grapes if you want, but the fact remains that the ridiculous format of the All-Ireland Championship means that for yet another year, the Dubs were eliminated after losing just one match by a team that were allowed to lose one match. I wonder if that status quo would remain if Kerry or Tyrone were similarly affected?

As I was twittering the game on Monday, someone replied and mentioned that the GAA was “confident in its own brand”. Time, methinks, to re-publish a post from 2006, which examined just that very point, and outlines a few areas I felt needed addressing – very few of which have been dealt with in the meantime.


Remember – just because I list what’s wrong doesn’t mean I think there’s nothing right…

I started to feel nervous once I finished typing that title. Should I be looking over my shoulder around now? I’m just about to diss the undissable!

The debate over the use of Croke Park was one of the most fascinating in sporting history, not just on this island. To those who can’t claim ancestry on Celtic soil, it seemed like a ludicrously lop-sided argument.

Basically a couple of big boys who wanted to play ball in the neighbourhood’s immaculate park were being denied by a smart-ass pipsqueak kid who tantalisingly dangled the keys from inside the fence. Yet whenever I heard the protagonists discuss the matter, I always got the sense that the big boys both knew the pipsqueak’s Dad would kick their ass if they pushed him too far.

Just look at me as an even smaller pipsqueak shouting rude words through the fence from behind the big boys and then running away as fast as my little legs will carry me.

Before I go on, I should give two reasons why I may be considered biased when writing this piece.

First, I’m a disgruntled Dubs fan who feels like it’s a joke that the only counties who don’t get to use the “back-door” system are the four who actually become champions of their province.

Second, I’m a disgruntled rugby fan who is convinced that were it not for the existence of Gaelic sports, we’d have both rugby AND soccer team that could realistically compete for honours in their respective World Cups.

If you spend any length of time here or indeed study the island’s history, you know that you can’t just look at the GAA as a sporting organisation. It has links to the nation’s history; in fact it has strong links to its very foundation.

Trust me – I totally get that.

I also know the GAA will never, ever go away. And if truth be told, I wouldn’t really want it to. Think of an annoying relative in your family you have a particular dislike for without actually wishing them dead.

So all that leaves me to do is list what I think can be done to make the games more appealing, and to encourage people to follow it not just because they are supporting their county or their country, but because it actually involves entertaining sports that can realistically compete with the ones that are embraced all around the world.

And so I have compiled six points. I’m sure I can list more. And yes, I know you could easily come back at me with things that are wrong with rugby & soccer. Trust me, for every one of those you could come up with, I could produce three, but that’s for another day’s writing.

1. MINDLESS BEAUROCRACY – The Croke Park saga showed me exactly where the GAA’s problems are rooted. To make a decision, it has to be approved by individual province boards, individual county boards, in fact I think parish priests even get a veto by the looks of it. I’m sorry, but from my practical standpoint that makes a mockery of the organisation. Gaelic football and Hurling are minority sports. Not just on the planet, but on this island. That doesn’t mean they’re BAD sports. They are just minority sports. Their top level executive process should not be that complicated. Let the federal level regularly elect a central council for, say, a four year term, and let them get on with governing the game and making decisions without having to convene hundreds of committees all over the country in the process.

2. WHEN IS A HAND-PASS A HAND-PASS? – One frustrating by-product of my first point is that with every new season on GAA sports (though to be honest I’m not quite sure exactly when one season ends and another begins) there is a whole new set of rule changes for the long-suffering fans to digest. Constant tinkering with the hand-pass rules. Yellow, red and even black cards which the referees seem to dole out on a whim more than as a result of enforcing stringent sets of laws. Plus the fact that I can’t for the life of me understand how one man in his forties can be expected to run around a park and keep track of the antics of thirty men aged ten to twenty years younger. I’m sorry – but when a GAA game is officiated, it looks a lot like it a weekend pick-up game down at the park. That is not about the officials, it’s about the ever-changing rules they are expected to enforce.

3. HOW DO YOU GET TO BE CHAMPIONS? – These points are in no particular order, but two get my goat particularly, and this is one of them. Next season, there is to be yet more tinkering with both the All-Ireland Championship and the National League. Now when I say “National League”, what I really mean is the Glorified Friendly Series the GAA runs every spring. Personally, I would find a way of tying the League to the Championship, but what I’d settle for is the GAA executive (one with teeth as I outlined before) to agree on a format and stick to it for at least four or five seasons in a row before altering it. Just stick to this premise – try and get the best two teams in the country contesting the All-Ireland Final. It doesn’t look like rocket science to me.

4. SHOW ME THE MONEY – Though I appreciate the GAA’s pride in retaining its amateur status, I can’t see the GPA going away any time soon. The central executive should let them in under the umbrella and start sharing the wealth generated by the sports equally among those who actually contribute to it.

5. DROP THE DRAWS – My biggest pet peeve of all. I’ve written about it before on my blog. This drives me up the wall and down the other side. There is pretty frequent scoring in both Gaelic football and Hurling. There is absolutely NO reason why a single-elimination contest cannot be settled on the day. No need to bring everyone back the following week to buy thousands more tickets. It really should be unconstitutional to be able to unnecessarily legislate large amounts of cash for yourself. But I guess on this island that wouldn’t make them the only ones, right?

6. WHY HIDE YOUR BEAUTIFUL HQ? – One argument I heard from GAA-heads throughout the Croke Park debate went something like this – “Why should we share with rugby and soccer when they can’t build their own stadium?” To the GAA I say this. You want to really humiliate them? Let them play their games in Croker, and when the French and the Aussies and the Brazilians and yes, even the English come to play, you make sure you let their fans know about your games when you have them assembled before and after the matches. Tell them you built it. Show it off to the world!!! You can’t do that when Kerry plays Mayo. You can when it’s a Six Nations game or a World Cup qualifier.

That’s it for now. Of course I don’t know that much about it to begin with. I’m sure I will incur a backlash from GAA fans.

Sometimes, however, it helps to hear the truth from outside the fence. All I’m saying to the GAA is, maybe the game should market itself towards soccer and rugby fans – some of us wouldn’t actually mind coming on board and spending our money on your tickets. As you are so keen to point out, there’s a lot wrong with our sports as well.

I hope I didn’t offend anyone too much.

© JL Pagano 2006
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6 thoughts on “what’s wrong with the gaa”

  1. You raise some reasonable points there JL, but I don't really think your problem with the back-door holds water. In the last 20 years Dublin have won Leinster 11 times, Kerry have won Munster 10 times and Tyrone (and Armagh) have won Ulster 7 times. Therefore I would counter that Kerry and Dublin and to a lesser extent Tyrone should all be put out by the back-door arrangement.

    What seems to count in the All-Ireland Football is that when you make it to quarter finals (by whatever route), you can mix it with the big boys.

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  2. Thanks for the comment Gerry, and I hope you don't mind if I counter your counter by pointing out that both Kerry and Tyrone HAVE big-boys already in their provinces (Cork and Armagh to name but two) so when they won their titles they had already been through the mill and progressed to the quarterfinals the better for it.

    Most of Dublin's recent Leinster titles have been after a succession of three virtual training matches.

    Best suggestion I've heard is for the qualifiers to be taken another round to leave 2 counties, and this series to ensue…

    1. Prov winner v Prov Winner
    2. Prov winner v Prov winner
    3. Loser 1 v Qualifier 1
    4. Loser 2 v Qualifier 2
    SF1 Winner 1 v Winner 4
    SF2 Winner 2 v Winner 3

    Only adds two games to the schedule, and takes away Dublin's beef forever!!!

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  3. I think I remember this post from before so hopefully I wont' make the same points!

    Gaelic football and Hurling are minority sports. Not just on the planet, but on this island

    Not true, but even if it were it wouldn't be an argument for making the Association less democratic.

    The central executive should let them [the GPA] in under the umbrella and start sharing the wealth generated by the sports equally among those who actually contribute to it

    The GPA aren't asking for this. They want to keep their autonomy, which they'd lose by coming under the GAA umbrella.

    Drop the draws

    This will never change because nobody involved wants it to. Clearly it's a nice earner for the GAA, but likewise nobody is forcing anyone to buy a ticket for the replays, yet it always seems to fill up all over again!

    The players love it because there is no fairer way on earth to deal with a draw than to give both teams another crack at it. There is extra time, don't forget. Penalty shoot-outs are a horrible way to decide a match, let's never see anything like it in GAA.

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  4. Hi JG, thanks again for chipping in.

    My retorts…

    Re : democracy

    Simply put, the more say you give to people, the less real work you actually get done. Case in point, The United Nations. And yes, they ARE minority sports. You can't just take the GAA membership as a whole remember, you have to count the number of players for each individual sport. I think you'll find more ppl play soccer or rugby on the island of Ireland than GAA football or hurling.

    Re : GPA

    I plead guilty for my choice of words. When I say “let in under the umbrella”, I mean deal with them as a proper entity much as players unions do in other sports. And once they do, there's no doubt that some form of professionalism will ensue, so why prolong the inevitable.

    re : draws

    With this response, you have proven my overall point. Why do GAA fans feel their codes are any different to any other sport?

    You think soccer players wouldn't like another crack at it? Or rugby players? Or tennis players?

    The fact is, there are only so many dates in the year and if you want a bigger revenue stream, have some round robin matches in the early rounds. I'd have loved to have seen more than just four Dublin C'ship matches this year!

    And as I already stated in the post itself, there's no need for penalty shootouts…if extra time doesn't produce a winner, how bout next score wins? Now THAT'S excitement few sports could equal.

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  5. Hi JL,

    Re : democracy

    The UN is a shocking example. The UN isn't at all democratic. The victors of WW2 have a veto over every resolution. That's why there's deadlock, not because they've given the little people too much power. Jesus wept.

    Simply put, the more say you give to people, the less real work you actually get done.

    JL, that is unsupportable nonsense. I have idea where you're getting this!

    Seriously, the more say you give people the more they can take ownership of their own association and feel like they have a voice. This, not surprisingly, is a source of motivation for volunteers up and down the country. Y'know, those 'little people' who actually keep the whole thing going.

    I think you'll find more ppl play soccer or rugby on the island of Ireland than GAA football or hurling.

    There's a reason why the Eircom League (woops, Eircom withdrew the cash, wonder why!) is near financial collapse and the GAA is flush.

    This should help: http://www.gaa.ie/files/04arstat.pdf

    There is no substitute for bums on seats and no sport is viable without them.

    By the way more people play Gaelic Games than rugby in the Republic. Probably ditto for soccer, although I'm not certain. Including the North distorts things because only nationalists play GAA and they are a minority up there.

    In any case, get back to me with your 'minority sports' when the Irish league attracts 82,000 fans to a provincial game! 😉

    Re : GPA

    They are negotiating the nature of their future relationship (GAA – GPA) at the moment. No doubt the GAA will recognise them in exchange for certain concessions. The usual give and take.

    I doubt the GAA will ever become professional, but some kind of grants/rewards scheme is highly likely.

    Re draws:

    The fact is, there are only so many dates in the year

    And somehow the GAA seem to fit all their replays in without having to change the calendar, so where's the problem?

    You think soccer players wouldn't like another crack at it? Or rugby players? Or tennis players?

    Then let them get their acts together and introduce it into their sports.

    Why do GAA fans feel their codes are any different to any other sport?

    Spectatularly silly point.

    Should the GAA abolish replays because those poor tennis players don't get them?

    how bout next score wins?

    That would be even worse then penalties but I presume it's a joke.

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  6. We could back-and-forth ad nauseum on this, and clearly we'll need to agree to disagree BUT I will clear a couple of things up.

    (1) re: eircom … in post I make it perfectly clear that I'm not holding up soccer OR rugby's organization on this island as some kind of standard

    (2) re-attendances … how many times do GAA games attract 82,000 in a calendar year exactly??? they didn't even fill Croker when FOUR counties were present for All-Ireland quarter-finals a few weeks ago.

    (3) Not fair to include the north? Why call it the “All-Ireland” then?

    (4) Re : calendar. Of course there's loads of dates…they play feck all games!!!! It's possible to be All Ireland Champions by playing only FIVE TIMES!!! What other team sport does that? I'm saying DITCH the draws, and have MORE games that count! I mean that as a GOOD thing by the way.

    As for my points being silly or not, I guess that depends whether you're looking at the GAA from the outside looking in or vice versa.

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