Joe Brolly

JOE BROLLY: The split season

LIMERICK hurler Seán Finn said this week that he has “thoroughly enjoyed the split season” and why wouldn’t he? As he describes it, the long club break from the inter-county season has replenished his energy levels and he is enjoying life. Enjoying life? Is that allowed?

Seán told the Examiner’s John Fogarty “When you’re tuned into the inter-county season for so long it can be mentally draining (I would add boring). I’ve really enjoyed the break, the time with my club and hopefully we will go until the end of October.” This extraordinary, multi-decorated county hurler (he has won four straight All-Stars) is in his happy place.

Like all our county players, he has finally, at long last, been given a proper break from the enforced tedium of the old system. He has had vital time to enjoy other parts of life. Best of all, his club Bruff are playing Newcastle West in the Limerick Intermediate Championship semi-final this Saturday.

Asked by John whether the new system is good for the inter-county game, Seán said, “Maybe not, because it seems the All-Ireland final was so long ago, but as a player I can only speak highly of it.”

Another unforeseen benefit of the new system is that as we saw with the vibrant inaugural Tailteann Cup, because the county season was finished so early, players from the counties outside Division One hadn’t taken off to the US. They were all still at home and available to play. So, we had a wonderful, life affirming second tier championship. Afterwards, the discussion turned to creating more tiers. Why should Antrim and Carlow and Leitrim now have the same opportunities to win a Tier 3 or Tier 4 All-Ireland?

Why shouldn’t we have a weekend festival of All-Ireland finals, perhaps with Tier 2 and 4 on the Saturday in Croke Park, followed by the Tier 1 and 3 finals on the Sunday? Now, these will work, because the players will still be at home, unlike the old system where they were long gone. The new split season even allows players to travel to America on a five-week sanction to play there, before returning in time for their own club championships. These are very big wins.

All over the country, we see the new lease of life being given to the club. Proper time to prepare. Proper time for their star players to reintegrate with the group and achieve that togetherness that is the essence of our games. Under the old system, county players might as well have been hired by their clubs for championship, as though they were travelling to the US for five weeks. As for the clubs, they waited forever to start their championship then ran it off like a blitz, sometimes over the space of three weeks.

Then, it was straight back to the county for pre-season training. Who did this benefit? Well, if Donal Óg is opposed to it, the GAA must be doing something right.

Our clubs have been invigorated. They are no longer an afterthought, a thing of secondary importance, about whom we make grand speeches and describe them as “the lifeblood of the association” while treating them as anything but.

In fact, in the last 20 years, the GPA has hijacked this language. Routinely now, we hear their leaders talking of county players as the lifeblood of our association, the ones who inspire the children, the ones who generate the revenue and all the rest. They are essentially a lobby and PR group, the main purpose being to ensure that money continues to flow into their coffers.

The more county players can be kept away from their clubs, the more they become detached from them. When the GPA are against the new shorter county season, in my view they are railing against the loosening of that control over county players. The longer the county season, the more games, more money, more sponsorship, and most importantly, more financial possibilities for the GPA.

Just last week, at the GPA’s annual conference, which always comes across like a Google wellness day, Tom Parsons ran through the GPA script. He said, “County players are role models in their community, driving social change.” Driving social change? I have no idea what he means by that, but it sounds high minded and noble. He said, “Our members play a unique and irreplaceable role in Irish society, heritage and culture.” Again, meaningless mumbo jumbo that could apply to most lawful groupings. Young Fine Gael or Conradh na Gaelige (no offence to Conradh na Gaelige) would say the same.

Then, the veiled threats to the GAA. “Our commitment to Gaelic games at the highest level must be acknowledged, respected and not forgotten” ie, the GPA wants more funding. Then, “it is imperative there is a world class welfare programme in place for intercounty players.” I don’t know what a world class welfare program is (more life coaches?), but you get the drift.

It is like the North Korean parliament, with exaggerated expressions of how amazing the GPA is, what a crucial role they fulfil in Irish society and no dissenting voices.

As usual, all of the motions at the conference (six in total) were passed unanimously. How can anyone object to sugary expressions of wellness and niceness?

Motion 5: “That our members are iconic, very important, wonderful human beings, love little kittens and deserve special treatment”. Do we have anyone to speak against the motion? No? Last chance. No? Okay. Do we have a seconder? Yes? Thank you, Donal Og. Can our members press the green button to vote Yes and the red button to vote No. And the result? 150 votes to zero. The motion is carried unanimously. Cue a big round of applause, with Tom Parsons nodding his head humbly and saying, “Please, please, there is really no need.”

The GPA has always come across as embarrassed children wanting to be treated like adults. With no real decision-making powers, they only exist because the GAA allowed a vacuum to develop. They therefore play at being grown ups. They have their AGMs, just like adults. They have pop-ups and power points and glossy posters just like adults. They are, however, betrayed by their tactic of childlike emotional blackmail. They come across like life coaches, and like life coaches, they are extremely sensitive to criticism. The most embarrassing thing about them though is the amount of time they spend patting each other on the backs, which is nauseating.

Meanwhile, the rest of us get on with volunteering.

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