John Arnold: Club players betrayed by summer shutdown in the move to a GAA split-season

'97% of players are now victims of sporting apartheid which deems them lesser individuals in the eyes of the Association...'
John Arnold: Club players betrayed by summer shutdown in the move to a GAA split-season

John Arnold at his beloved Bride Rovers GAA Club. Picture Denis Minihane.

IF Cusack, Davin and the other GAA founders were on Zoom to the GAA Congress on Saturday they would have cried out in anguish: 'Our clubs, our clubs why have ye forsaken them?' 

It was a watershed day for the Gaelic Athletic Association. Decisions were made as regards the GAA calendar from 2022 onwards. 

The concept of giving certainty as regards the scheduling of games was supposedly high on the agenda. Fair play to the GAA this, great democratic sporting organisation, in one fell swoop they have certainly given certainty.

Those who play hurling and football with Clubs in every parish in this country can be broadly divided into two groups the 3% of them who get to wear the jersey of their native county and the 97% who play for all their days with their beloved Clubs. What the GAA has done is to drive a wedge between these two groups. 

The 3% of elite inter-county players are now guaranteed to play with their county teams in the summer months: May, June and July. These are the months of the long days, sun on your back, crowds in every club field, when it's the real season for Gaelic Games, especially hurling. 

Now our club players have the certainty that they are to be forever the victims of sporting apartheid which deems them lesser individuals in the eyes of the GAA. The club players can start their championship season as the summer fades and the days shorten. 

Sure Croke Park will say 'Yerra there's a long year there 'til Christmas so let ye play away'. 

This regime whereby the summer is a no-go season for meaningful club games is not being forced upon us by other sporting organisations, or the government or some foreign oppressor. No, it's the GAA itself is making this change.

Our Founding Fathers were wise men, their dream was that the club, the parish club, would be the foundation, the bedrock upon which the GAA would flourish and inter-county games, not of the same importance. Now the situation has reversed completely. 

The club is being forsaken, shoved into the corner. 

The omnipotent inter-county managers are a law unto themselves. Look at the scandalous situation of panels of 30 players and maybe a so-called 'backroom team' of 25. That is an absolute disgrace as is the sum of nearly €30 million being spent annually on 3% of our players. 

The GAA has prostituted itself on the altar of financial expediency and please, please don't justify this by anyone pointing out how much money comes back to the grassroots annually. Over the Christmas I read Denis Coughlan's autobiography Everything

Denis was a wonderful Cork dual star and his story makes for a brilliant book. Denis expresses fears for the direction the GAA is heading. 

"The GAA have now been hoisted by their own petard. They have built up a lucrative market for the games by over-promoting the pay-per-view provincial, All-Ireland and Super 8 series to the neglect of the clubs. 

This has created a huge new audience of people for whom their county is their club. In the same way that professional provincial teams in rugby are now the clubs of rugby supporters who have forsaken the real clubs in their locality. The grassroot, local, community and volunteer-based entities which used to be the very foundation of the GAA have been subverted by the professional glamour county brands." 

I never met or spoke to Denis but the two of us are singing from the same hymn sheet. Unfortunately, now it's a lament. I'm blue in the face from suggesting a May to end of September inter-county season with four two-week gaps for club game. 

No one listened to my suggestion. 

Now it seems club players can play league games for the first half of the year and championship in the autumn-winter period. 

BURNED OUT

The inter-county players will start training in January, play with the county until knocked out, then with the club. Did someone say one time we had a problem with player burnout in the GAA; we have, a self-inflicted sore. 

As for the GAA decision to dump the month of September from the Irish sporting calendar... well the mind boggles. We in the GAA are a very fair-minded organisation so let's have wall-to-wall non-Gaelic sports on our TV screens from August 'til March.

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