THE GAA likes to regurgitate. Strike that, they don’t. They have no say in it. It’s a force of habit. It’s tradition, you see. Bring back what went before. Sure, it didn’t do us any harm then, did it? Served us well then so why shouldn’t it now?
Never mind there might have been a valid reason why it was done away with, the past is still seen as offering the best. There’s a motion on this year’s Congress Clár to resurrect the ritual of the All-Ireland winning minor captain giving an acceptance speech after it was stopped last year. Where’s the harm in saving a teenager from the onerous task of articulating the victory?
Then there was the mark, something which was brought in, defeated, then brought in again as an experimental rule to reward the art of high-fielding. Ultimately, it was counter-productive (and worryingly it could be back in time for next year’s league).
On the odd occasion, it works. The revival of the four divisional league structure. Good idea. Made sense. Why was it ever changed in the first place?
Restoration of the autumn league start? Bad idea. Bad, bad idea.
Roscommon club Elphin have put forward the motion calling for a return to October league starts, which has been endorsed by the county.
Chairman Michael Fahey last week explained: "The first few months are incredibly busy between National Leagues, third level and under-21 championships. It leaves very little room for club games, which is frustrating for a great many players.
"It's a problem in every county and Roscommon's view is that playing a few league games in October and November would prove very helpful in spring.”
Fahey’s heart is in the right place but why should the National League, the second biggest competition in the GAA, have to compromise for the sake of the college and under-21 teams? A real case of the tail wagging the dog if that were to materialise.
And, frankly, the idea that the move would give clubs more time earlier in the year is a myopic and retrograde one when the business end of club championships will still invariably be staged in October and November and clash with any autumn league fixtures.
The other argument Roscommon have highlighted is the lack of promotion the GAA suffers in the autumn months when club action is hardly a match for Heineken Cup and autumn international series rugby and Premier League soccer.
Those two other sports aren’t without their own fallow times of the year. July and most of August are vacant rugby months while barring a World Cup or European Championship soccer’s desert can extend from May to mid-August.
In fact, three rounds of National League fixtures in October and November when the circus has packed up and left the third weekend in September is hardly promotion. You’d reckon the Dublin County Board would find it painfully difficult to shift tickets for a pre-Christmas Croke Park double-header with Cork and Tipperary just a handful of weeks after the culmination of their exhaustive seasons and still in the midst of deserved celebrations.
No, there’s genuine excitement about the upcoming games at headquarters partly because it’s a new year and with that comes invigorated hope for the romantic Dubs and supporters across the country. Right now, everything is up for grabs because nobody else has got their mitts on it yet.
The GAA should not feel it has to compete with rugby and soccer at a time of year when it “hibernates”. The thing is the Association never sleeps. And this is the biggest misnomer about our national games – it’s not always about the county.
For some though, it is, but players have clubs to play for as well as feet to rest. Asking them to line out for their counties for two more months of the year when they are devoting more than enough – sometimes too much to the cause – would be downright irresponsible of the GAA.
Aside from the player welfare argument, what’s most preposterous about the autumn start is the manner in which it would undermine the National Leagues. Teams’ performances in October and November would be nothing like their displays February onwards.
Were the National League have started last October, it would hardly be surprising if Cork footballers and Tipperary’s hurlers were coming into the new year with zero points from three games. Would it be reflective of their attitude, their talents? Hardly. Flog a dead horse and you get a desperately poor race.
The National League has suffered enough ignominy without having to be split into two sections, which would play out as two completely different competitions.
Sponsors Allianz have warned they won’t accept it – and who could blame them? In fairness, they’ve put up with quite a lot over the years. League finals clashing with all-Irish Heineken Cup semi-finals, repeated rule changes... others would have walked.
Still, the league has endured and Allianz have rightly pointed out it has become less of a stepping stone and more of launch-pad to the championship (Cork were the fifth Division One winners in the last five campaigns to go on and do the double). Chop three games off the run-in to May and its gravitas is lost.
Just when they (and the majority of managers) were rightly looking forward to the 2011 running where there will be no rule changes, along comes this motion. We know where it’s coming from, we know it’s well-meant but it’s misdirected. A vote for it is a backward step.