Letter to the Sports Editor
Is the GAA dying a slow death? People will say it has never been so good. Large crowds, lots of income, TV coverage and the players are seen as superstars, but the roots are slowly dying from neglect. What are the roots you might ask? Well the roots are every club member, be it player, coach or volunteer, in the country. It is these that are being neglected, by not only Croke Park, but from their very own county boards – the people who are there to look after them.
We are all well aware of the trouble clubs are having in getting a proper set of fixtures put in place. Being treated like second-class citizens and basically being dictated to by boards that only seem to realise these players exist when the almighty county team falls. But do people really know what is going on at club level and why the club may be slowly dying?
The GAA club season is the only sport where there is no set of fixtures for the year – no structure, just constant disarray. Soccer, rugby, hockey, athletics, golf, tennis etc all have a season. They know when it starts and when it ends and when they are playing in between. They have a luxury that our clubs can only imagine, in that they can put a reasonable plan in place for the year. How there are still players so committed to our clubs is a wonder.
What is it like to be a club player? The majority of club players love hurling and football, love playing, love training and love to push themselves. They are no different to inter-county players, they train as hard, they do work on their own and they sacrifice social lives. The difference is that as years go on they ask the same question: why bother? So they give up doing the extra bit on their own, they give up sacrificing a night out, they give up going to half the trainings and eventually they just give up altogether. Because they realise it is madness to begin training in February for a few games in September/October.
What about the coach. Installed at the start of the year, he gets his selectors in place and puts together a great plan for the year. He calls a players meeting and everyone can’t wait to get back into it after agreeing to really give it a go this year. Things go well, you do well in the championships games in April and then the problem starts. The county team starts on their campaign and all of a sudden the clubs become invisible.
No date given for the next championship game except for it may be around August/September or October. The coach doesn’t know whether to keep training going or stop altogether. He doesn’t want to be caught short if the county board throws in a game in short notice. So they go for something in between keep it going but with less training sessions. Probably the worst option, but what choice has he? Players become disillusioned and know they are training for nothing, numbers begin to dwindle at training, coaches can’t hold a proper session because there are only nine players togging off. Any motivation is slowly eroded and the coach swears to himself he’s not doing this next year.
Not worth it
So over the years, the club is losing players because they realise it’s just not worth it anymore; the club loses coaches because they’re not going to waste their time in a field with nine or 10 players; the club finds it hard to get a coach for the new year because nobody wants to train a team that doesn’t know when it might have a game; the club loses volunteers and members because its hard to support a team that hasn’t a constant stream of fixtures to go to. So each year every adult club losses more people then it gains. How can they survive? They can’t until something changes.
So what can be done? Is it not time for clubs to go it alone and not be affected by the county team? If a player is on the county panel then so be it. He’s getting games. Clubs need to say we’ll play without our county player. We need to get the roots of our game as strong as possible for the rest to grow and flourish.
Is it really that hard to put a set of fixtures for the year in place? The inter-county scene has a set of fixtures, so just arrange our fixtures around this. If the county team gets knocked out earlier, then we should not rearrange fixtures – leave them set in stone. If that means the county final is going to be played in the last weekend of October or first weekend in November every year, then so be it. We can all accept that. It’s the structure we’re looking for and need. If everyone knows at the start of the year when games are going to be played and when the county finals ate, then we can arrange our year accordingly.
Will this happen? I have put this argument to people on the board and they’ll give me the same answer. If you want to change this then you need to get involved at club meetings and county conventions. But should a player who wants to just play and push himself to the limits also need to take on the extra responsibility of actually trying to organise how our games are run? Who do they think we are? The Cork hurlers!
I and many more will do our time in the administration of running our clubs when we finish playing but surely there is enough retired footballers and hurlers out there who should be stepping up to the mark.
Finally, I would like there to be a hell of a lot more communication between the county board and club players. I have seen first hand last year how we are treated. Or are we seen as being lucky to playing at all. I fear the longer we play our club games in such an unstructured manner then the amount of players giving up altogether will give rise to a situation where clubs will no longer be able to field teams, or will be left with no-one to look after them.
Spare a thought for us as we get ready for a year of more of the same.
Yours in sport
A disgruntled Waterford club player
This epistle arrived unsolicited on my desk this week. The player in question, who prefers to remain anonymous, certainly makes a cogent case, outlining the realities related by so many ordinary club members throughout Waterford – and not just this year, but for donkeys, as they say. The County Board has a hard job, but it’s not beyond them to resolve the perennial fixtures mess for once and for all. And simply starting championships earlier isn’t the answer. It’s the waiting around in mid-season that drives players round the bend.