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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