It's not easy to sort the club versus county dilemma but Cork shouldn't rush through such sweeping changes

It's not easy to sort the club versus county dilemma but Cork shouldn't rush through such sweeping changes
Na Piarsaigh's Shane Forde shoots from Blackrock's Dylan Stokes. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

IT’s close on 50 years now since I last studied Latin. Despite the passage of time certain words and phrases from the language still remain with me.

One example is festina lente which is often translated as ‘make haste slowly’ or take time to consider major decisions which can have major consequences down the road.

A similar saying full of wisdom is ‘act in haste, repent at leisure’.

On Tuesday night members of the Cork County Board of the GAA meet in Páirc Uí Chaoimh to consider sweeping changes to the way the club hurling and football championships will be run in Cork during 2020 and 2021. There has been a groundswell of feeling in recent times that change and major change is needed both in terms of the actual competitions and the timing of games.

A consultation period in which the views of all concerned was initiated. March 1 was the deadline for written submissions. Then during the month of March, a ‘Topics’ session was held during a County Board meeting and a Club Forum to garner ideas, proposals and suggestions from Cork GAA Clubs was held — on March 9.

Since then the ‘Games’ Workgroup of the Cork GAA Strategic Subcommittee considered all the proposals. Last Tuesday night these were presented to board delegates.

I must admit that the proposed changes are far-reaching.

Three proposals are on the table in regards dates for game and two proposals as regards team gradings.

In all the options the old championship format with a first round and a ‘back-door’ game have been replaced by ‘league style championships’ — that is where the teams in any particular grade are divided into groups of 3, 4 or 6 which will give a minimum of two, three or five championship games — depending on which option is chosen.

In summary:

Option A has the championships commencing with one game in April and then resuming in August.

Option B suggests no championship games in any grade until August and Option C proposes 1 game in April, 2 games in May/June where clubs play without their inter-county players and then two further games in August.

As someone who has constantly protested against the treatment that the 97% of our players, who play for club only and whose interests have been sidelined as the inter-county games programme has become gets bigger and bigger, I am bothered and bewildered at these choices.

Option A is close to what we presently have in Cork which sees the summer months largely idle as regards club championship games for club players — in effect two championship seasons, one in April and the second whenever the Cork teams are finished their summer campaigns.

Option B would basically abandon the club players for the summer when club games, especially hurling, needs to be played. If implemented this option could mean a meaningful club season of just a month or six weeks for our club players.

Option C then guarantees club championship games all throughout the summer but, in my opinion, changes the very ethos and core values of the GAA forever.

We are forever and ever ad nauseam being told that the club is the basic and most important unit of the GAA. Of course it is. 

Go back to our founders and show me where Cusack or Davin or Croke spoke of the importance of the county team, they never did because they knew and I know too that without vibrant clubs our association will die, stark and simple but true.

Option C, if implemented, would change the whole value system of GAA clubs.

Enda Dennehy, St Finbarr’s looking to get away from Noel Galvin and Pa Kelly, Ballincollig. Picture: Dan Linehan
Enda Dennehy, St Finbarr’s looking to get away from Noel Galvin and Pa Kelly, Ballincollig. Picture: Dan Linehan

Clubs train juvenile players, volunteers in every club in our 32 counties are doing it every week.

If a player from any particular club makes the Cork team there is a great sense of pride and in that club it’s the work of so many coaches and trainers from U6 upwards have helped that player don the Blood and Bandage of Rebel Cork.

Asking clubs to play without inter-county players in championship games, even for ‘half point’ games puts us firmly on what I call the ‘Munster rugby ‘ path. The clubs that reared and nurtured hurlers and footballers will see them less and less.

Isn’t it sad to think the club stalwarts might say ‘You know, we’d be better off without any Cork player in our club’?

Then on the contrary people may argue that at least by playing the games without the Cork stars you are catering for the 97% who will never wear the red jersey?

It’s a huge dilemma for clubs but if we create even further divides between club and county players we’ll all suffer in the long run.

What’s my solution? Well I’ll be brutally frank and honest and admit I just don’t know.

One thing I do know however is that far more time for discussion and tweaking the Options and taking amendments on board has to be allowed.

Why this lemming-like rush to make such far-reaching changes?

In answer to a query requesting more time the reply from the board is 'no'.

As outlined at Tuesday night’s board meeting, the formats for 2020 must be confirmed before this year’s championship starts on Friday, April 5. Therefore, the vote has to take place on Tuesday night next to facilitate the start of the new formats in 2020.

Clubs were notified in advance that a vote would follow, a week after last Tuesday night’s meeting. This argument is simply illogical.

True the Cork SFC starts next Friday but answer me this are Mallow and Kiskeam and Clyda Rovers and St Finbarr’s going to train harder on Wednesday and Thursday nights whether these proposals are implemented or not?

All teams will go out trying their level best to win their championship first rounds and no decision made or not made at a county board meeting will alter that fact.

Someone else sent in a query about the new proposals vis a vis rules and bye-laws and the reply was:

If any other issues arise subsequently, all avenues to seek a rule or bye-law change or deviation from rule will be explored in accordance with the mandate provided by clubs.

Ultimately, if all such efforts fail and any option selected is finally ruled out of order, the second choice option of clubs will be implemented.

Talk about buying a pig in a poke. Surely no ‘issues’ should be left unresolved when major changes are being considered? 

Are we starting on the road to semi-professionalism where the Munster rugby model is aped and we will have two distinct types of GAA players, elite county players and club players? Are we on the slippery slope to this or as one person asked is this the ‘thin end of the wedge’?

The less than convincing reply from our County Board was "No, not in our view”.

Look I’m not condemning all these proposals outright but I am appealing for time to consider them fully and the implications they could bring.

At present every GAA club is up the walls with activity so why not give us time until the Autumn to reconsider, revise and then choose?

In my time involved in the GAA I think the club championship formats in Cork have been changed five times - always in the autumn periods after adequate time for mature reflection.

Is that too much to ask for now?

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