If solutions were that simple there wouldn’t be a problem

For the last 3 years as @MeathGAA P.R.O. I have asked for a Commercial Manager to be employed. Unfortunately on numerous occasions I’ve been told to stop bringing it up. We have needed this for years and we must act promptly to rectify it.

Ciaran Flynn

Sir Alex Ferguson was loathsome of football agents. A lot of those connected to or simply fans of rival clubs used to love having a poke at the great Scot. Mostly owing to jealousy of course. It is possible, however that many would agree with his distrust of players’ representatives. And with good reason too.

Another day, another story about Paul Pogba being “Unhappy” at Manchester United. All drummed up by slurry agitator in chief, Mino Raiolo, Pogba’s agent. Funnily, there has never been a word from the player himself. As a United fan, my gut feeling is the wayward Frenchman may depart, but, if that does turn out to be the case, how much of that will be down to a money-driven agent?

That whole scenario came to mind – even before seeing a story about same today ironically – when considering the contributions of both Andy McEntee and Pat Gilroy on the most recent episode of The Sunday Game. Now, the premise of the two men appearing on the show was to discuss Dublin’s continuing domination of senior inter-county football and, more pointedly how to make it competitive again.

Unfortunately, though, what transpired was Gilroy either completely misunderstanding why he was there or just flatly ignoring it. His repeated assertion, though seemingly factual, that there’s ‘only’ 39,000 people participating in Dublin completely misses the presumed point of having himself and the Meath manager on the show.

Andy McEntee is my neighbour, friend and somebody I have have the height of respect and admiration for within the GAA. I have never met Pat Gilroy, yet, but that is something which will hopefully be rectified in the future. The former All Ireland winning midfielder and manager is also a highly astute business man who, in the view of many, played a leading role in the resurgence of St Vincent’s on the Dublin and national club scene.

More than that, he is of the right age profile and has the broad-thinking business mentality the Association is in desperate need of to take it from the dark ages and allow it flourish. Yet, when well intentioned, forward thinking progressive people like Gilroy or Jarlath Burns put their heads above the parapet, the culturally ingrained fear of and opposition to change paralyses any movement towards progress.

Pat Gilroy

Having said all of the above, in this case Gilroy was as far out as a lighthouse. Somebody said on social media in the aftermath of the show that Andy wasn’t the person to debate the topic owing to his position. I could actually go along with that line of thought, but neither was Pat. The narrative of the whole of the scenario was wrong if blaming Dublin for the current situation was it. Then again, Pat’s pitch that there are ‘only’ 39,000 people participating in the capital and opining that they need even more funding was no help either.

Though nowhere near as asinine and downright insulting as his suggestion that counties could or should merge. Or, for that matter, that ‘franchises’, similar to how the Los Angeles Rams in American Football are now the St Louis male sheep be set up. A strange idea, that, considering that those who are often so terrified of change within the GAA would have us believe that a sense of local identity and local pride are the very core of the organisation.

Footballers in Leitrim or Waterford or Wicklow take every bit as much pride in donning their county colours as do those in Dublin and Mayo and of the stronger teams. Take that away from them and what do they or the organisation have left. People advocating such drastic change should remind themselves of the opprobrium which rightfully and justifiably erupted when the ludicrous proposal to disband the Connacht rugby team was tabled some years ago. Something which was blessedly not only refuted but comprehensively ridiculed when those who were once Pat Lam’s men defeated Leinster and captured the PRO 14 title.

ORDER OF BUSINESS

Radical reform is required however. And quickly. Look, I’m going to say it straight – at inter county level, teams should be professional. Either in terms of actually remunerating players (the preferred and proper option) or county boards appointed business guru under whatever title one wants to affix to said person whose sole responsibility is to oversee the development and running of county teams in all codes at all grades. Yes, just like John Costello in Dublin.

A point (thankfully) picked up on by Meath Co Committee Public Relations Officer Ciaran Flynn who tweeted on Sunday night “For the last 3 years as @MeathGAA P.R.O. I have asked for a Commercial Manager to be employed. Unfortunately on numerous occasions I’ve been told to stop bringing it up. We have needed this for years and we must act promptly to rectify it”

Meath P.R.O. Ciaran Flynn pictured with his dad and fellow Co Committee officer Francis.

Some might say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Looking from a different lense, though, copying what the best are doing is often the best if not only way to get up even close to the standards of those who lead the way. In ways it’s a vicious circle. If you don’t do something drastic, there is simply no way they can even live with, never mind compete against the best. However, if what would admittedly be groundbreaking steps are not taken, the simple question will be what incentive will there be for the vast majority of players to commit the astronomical amounts of their lives associated with being involved at inter county level. How many more will there have to be like Emlyn Mulligan (below) – exiting the inter county stage long, long before his time – before somebody takes action.

Leitrim forward Emlyn Mulligan

Have no doubt there would and will be absolute revulsion at the mere mention of paying players. Such reservations are totally understandable to the occupant of this seat. To a certain extent, those views would even be shared. Essentially, though, the foremost thought in this corner relates to the perilous state in which the football championship finds itself. If anyone within the GAA deserves payment it is the players,

The basis of Andy’s contribution to the programme – when he was eventually allowed get a word in to make it – revolved around funding. Not so much a case of Meath or any other team getting extra money. More a case of county administrations making better use of what monies they had available to them.

Of course, there is to my mind, a much simpler solution than having to cross into what the conservatively fearful might deem the dark side. That being proper competition structural renovation. The key word there being the one in italics. Doubtless, there are numerous ideas out there as to how to go about it. Each with their own merit also.

For example, again on Twitter, Paraic Farrelly suggested the following:

One Proposal for needed change

There are certainly merits to some of the above, for one thing, the championship definitely needs re-drafting. As outlined above, I think the appoint the appointment of a business orientated person is beyond essential and the idea of getting as many games out of Croke Park is certainly an idea worth exploring. Though the notion of the provincial final on the road may be a step too far.

As for the idea of so-called ‘weaker’ counties (an abhorrant term, why not call them disadvantaged, as is the case in agriculture?) basically transferring players in, an admirable concept. One which has already been piloted to a degree in hurling – Tipperary’s Eoin Brislane lining out with Meath, current Limerick midfielder David Reidy providing a big boost to Kildare for a time.

With football, it would be my belief that if a transfer system – I’ll refrain from using a certain other term – was put in place it would have to be run professionally. Not necessarily from a monetary perspective, but just to ensure it’s not a free-for-all.

FEAR AND HESITATION

However, knowing the fear of and hesitation towards change that has inhibited our games since God was a gosson, aiming to get structural redesigning of competitions through might be setting the bar high enough for now. Sometimes in GAA, as in life, you have to pick your battles. For example, for the life of me I cannot understand the vehement opposition to the Advanced Mark. High fielding is one of the most beautiful skills Gaelic football has and at a time the game is being absolutely poisoned by handpassing, we should be encouraging anything which increases the prominence of high fielding – and its cousin, kicking the ball – not moaning about it. And don’t get me started on the Black Card in hurling.

Dublin’s Paul Mannion calls a Mark against Kerry in the opening round of the National League

IN A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN

Thus, for now at least, the revamping of competitions may be as much as can be hoped for. My own take on it would be that at the very least the provincial championships need to be run as separate competitions to the race for Sam Maguire. This most unique of seasons has, not for the first time, exhibited the store teams place on being tops among their own.

The thing is, though, unusual outcomes such as the couple which transpired this winter cannot be the benchmark against which the sustainability of the current system are best judged. A point underscored by the manner in which the two unlikely victors this time round were subsequently usurped by the elite.

Granted, earnest hope would be that the return to the dark ages that was a knockout Championship was only for this year. Even at that, why hurling was allowed have a back-door system – and the lower grade Cup competitions proceeded with their normal league basis. The fact that there are so few teams competing across each division could, perhaps justifiably, be offered as to why there was more flexibility with regard to hurling.

But then, it could be very well be the case that the answer to football’s problems could be staring the GAA’s Brains Trust straight in the face.

There is a view, held by people whose proclamations would carry far greater credence than mine that the leagues are a much more balanced, fairer and by extension more entertaining competition than that which is supposedly the showpiece. Surely, then, a hybrid of both is exactly the way to go. Niw read on…

To get to that point, though, a few basic ideals will have to either altered or foregone altogether. First off, a split season is a must. With what I have in mind, ten weeks could easily accommodate the entire inter county season. Though it would require a seismic shift of mindset whereby clubs have first call on a players at all times as is the case in soccer with regard to internationals. In the case of GAA, that would mean players training etc with their clubs aside from, say, the beginning of the first week of the ten.

The only possible drawback to my idea would be in a conundrum as to whether, for example, if employing the system next year, say, do you go on 2020 league positions or alot positions?

For you see, my idea would be to have four divisions of eight teams (including London) thereby guaranteeing each team at least seven games. The idea being that whichever county finishes top of each division would get a trophy. With the top two in each grouping going into open draw quarter finals.

In short, according to their respective strengths, each team would be in a league of their own. Now that would always be worth a watch.

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