Pat's enough | 

Red-flag issues the GAA must confront to rescue our game

Everything from violent incidents on the field, the awful spectacle Gaelic football has evolved into, and my pet hate – the split season – all need to be addressed.

Adam Screeney of Offaly in action against Sam O'Farrell of Tipperary during the minor hurling final at Nowlan Park. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Seán O'Shea of Kerry was victim of the rule that doesn't allow senior play at under-20 level. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Dublin goalkeeper Evan Comerford during the All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

24 July 2022; Seán O'Shea of Kerry in action against Liam Silke of Galway during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kerry and Galway at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

11 July 2018; Larry Tompkins of Castlehaven, Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Pat SpillaneSunday World

Recently I have been mulling over the major challenges facing the GAA.

There are so many I could write two columns and still leave some out.

Everything from violent incidents on the field, the awful spectacle Gaelic football has evolved into, and my pet hate – the split season – all need to be addressed.

Today I am examining some of these issues.

Split Season

This issue simply won’t go away. The shock decision of Sky to walk away from their TV deal with the GAA has brought it sharply into focus again.

Sky’s withdrawal is going to cost the GAA big time in terms of revenue. It is estimated their deal with the association was worth €11m a year.

There is no way the GAA will be able to recoup this amount from the new TV deal.

But it’s not just the loss of revenue. The season has become utterly lopsided.

Forty pc of all inter-county games – a total of 189 – were played in January and February this year.

Three quarters of all games were completed by the end of April, and 92 per cent were finished by the end of May. There were just 38 games played at the height of summer in June and July.

Theoretically, the split season is a good idea – but completing the All-Ireland series by the end of July is a step too far.

By now I think people know my views on the split season.

As I have repeatedly written, taking our two top products – inter-county football and hurling – out of the shop window just allows rival sports to fill the vacuum.

I don’t accept the GAA’s rationale on the issue. It strikes me that they are stuck in a time warp. They want to return to Charles Kickham’s notion of honouring the little village, ie the club.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my club and clubs play a crucial role in the GAA.

But all sports have an elite class. It is what drives the organisation’s profile, and generates the bulk of the revenue.

Mark my words, the split season will hurt the GAA’s revenue streams. Last year its revenue dropped by €3m. Granted Covid-19 rules meant there were restrictions on attendances

Next year the congested nature of the inter-county season and the abolition of replays will result in a downturn in income.

The cost-of-living crisis means people have less money to spend nowadays, so they are likely to vote with their feet and attend fewer inter-county games.

As I alluded to earlier, Sky’s decision to cut their ties with the GAA will cost the association a lot of money. It reinforces my argument that the GAA’s national sponsors are no longer getting bang for their buck either.

They may want to renegotiate their contracts, which has serious implications for the GAA down the line.

In principle, I was against the Sky deal when it was announced on April’s Fool’s Day in 2014. Admittedly, part of my reservations stemmed from the fact that I was working with RTE at the time.

In retrospect, we have a lot for which to be thankful to Sky. Due to their excellent production standards, they upped the game for everyone.

However, regardless of the widespread views expressed on social media about the excellence of the analysis of games on Sky, their viewing figures were poor.

But Sky needed exclusive live sport in June and July – and the GAA matches filled the void.

Their decision to pull out reflects the stupidity of playing the All-Ireland finals in July.

In trying to solve the county v club dilemma there is a real danger the GAA has thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

Adam Screeney of Offaly in action against Sam O'Farrell of Tipperary during the minor hurling final at Nowlan Park. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Under-age Structures

This is not a case of hindsight being 20/20 vision. From the outset I said changes in the age structures for under-age competition were ill-conceived.

Everything that has happened since proved my point.

I didn’t agree with the rationale for the changes, which saw age limits for the existing U-21 and Minor Championships being reduced by a year, so they became U-20 and U-17 competitions.

Yet again, the GAA didn’t appreciate the negative impact the changes would have.

I think my 35 years as a teacher gives me an insight into the issue.

Seán O'Shea of Kerry was victim of the rule that doesn't allow senior play at under-20 level. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

I wrote at the time that exposing 15-year-olds to the demands of inter-county training was wrong.

They are not physically, or mentally, mature enough to cope with it.

I have seen some of the gym and running programmes that county Minors are expected to follow. It is plain bonkers.

From a psychological point of view, it is potentially very damaging.

It was very distressing, for example, watching parents and friends trying to console the Offaly U-17 hurlers after their devastating loss to Tipperary in the All-Ireland final this year.

In their wisdom the GAA also decreed that a player who is playing at senior inter-county level cannot line out for his county in the U-20 series until his involvement in the Senior Championship is over.

Granted the rule impacts only a minority of players, but in the cases of Kerry footballers David Clifford and Sean O’Shea and Limerick hurler Cathal O’Neill, their absences from their respective county U-20 teams probably cost them an All-Ireland title.

My bugbear is the ban on U-17 players lining out with adult club teams. This has a devastating impact on many rural clubs who are struggling to stay afloat.

Seventeen-year-olds are fitter and stronger than our generation were at that age, and they are well able to play adult football.

The biggest issue, however, is that players are walking away in droves after finishing playing at U-17 level.

The new U-19 club competition has been a disaster.

11 July 2018; Larry Tompkins of Castlehaven, Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Former Cork manager and All-Ireland-winning captain Larry Tompkins highlighted this issue recently.

Together with another former Cork manager, Brian Culbert, he was in charge of the Bishopstown U-17 team in recent years.

They’re not waiting around to play in a U-19 competition. Instead, they are opting to play rugby and soccer, where they are catered for.

Playing Rules

In a recent column I suggested three rule changes to improve the state of Gaelic football. As usual, my critics played the man rather the ball. All I got in response from the keyboard warriors was a load of personal abuse.

There is no point in shooting the messenger when it is blatantly obvious that changes are needed.

Ultimately, the two nuclear options of having a limit on the number of players who can be in one half of the field at any given time, and restricting the number of consecutive hand passes allowed may have to be considered.

In the meantime, the attacking mark should be dropped. It hasn’t resulted in the ball being kicked more often, and it’s just wrong that a player should be rewarded with a free-kick at goal after catching a ball on his chest.

Black Card

I watch a lot of club football in Kerry, and I could count on one hand the number of black cards I’ve seen this year.

I often wonder have club referees actually forgotten to bring them to matches. For whatever reason, they are not being used as intended.

Dublin goalkeeper Evan Comerford during the All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Time-Keeping

At inter-county level the black card has worked. However, the GAA has to find a mechanism to prevent teams from deliberately running down the clock when a player is in the sin bin.

We all remember the antics of Dublin goalkeeper Evan Comerford in this year’s All-Ireland semi-final while John Small was in the bin.

Isn’t it time that the GAA followed the example of the ladies and introduced a clock, which would take pressure of the already overworked referees?

More GAA

Latest Podcast

Latest News