OPINION: Why the CPA were right to oppose Paraic Duffy's proposal

Shane Stapleton breaks down the issues at play as the debate over fixtures intensifies

BY Shane Stapleton 18:57 Friday 27 January 2017, 18:57 27 Jan 2017

Paraic Duffy, Director General GAA ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

If passed at Congress, Paraic Duffy’s motion which would remodel the All-Ireland SFC championship structure could result in the Club Players' Association withering on the vine.

Either that, or there’s a strong chance that it sets in motion a chain reaction towards the nuclear option: a strike. No party wants that, but it could well happen. When you're backed into a corner with nowhere to go, the options are lessened.

The Club Players Association won’t say that right now but nothing is off the table, and the ratification of Duffy’s idea would be a backward step. The structure needs revolution, not evolution. Because the manner in which the championship vine has grown out since the introduction of the qualifiers has done little more than strangle the game at all levels. The inter-county championship is boring for the most part, and the club game is on the edge of a cliff.

Martin Breheny referred to the CPA statement which opposes the Duffy proposal as “megaphone diplomacy at its most damaging when quiet persuasion would be far more effective at this early stage”, and it’s his right to label it as such.

But for people who are still playing, managing, or otherwise involved at club level, a groundswell of frustration has been building for years. Fifteen thousand people have signed up to the CPA and, anecdotally, many more have said to this column: "Jaysus, I keep meaning to sign up."

As Duffy himself openly agrees, there is a huge problem with fixtures. His proposal — no doubt put together in good faith — does not solve anything. It brings the All-Irelands forward three weeks, which is helpful, but it adds more games to the inter-county season which means even less room for clubs during that time. Neither does this solve the bottom line which is: clubs are left training for ten and 11 months of the year, waiting and waiting.

So for the CPA, why oppose Duffy just over two weeks after your launch? It’s as simple as this: if you disagree with something and a motion is going to be passed which makes your aims more difficult, and could compromise the entire reason your organisation was founded, you must oppose it. And yes, publicly. No, not for the sake of a fight, but to show the 15,000 people who have rowed in behind you that this isn’t all talk. The extra round-robin at the quarter-final stage of the football championship — which will largely benefit the big teams, without question — does not help the lot of the average player at the coal face with a perpetual feeling of egg on his face.

Duffy calling the CPA contradictory ignores reality. Again, an extra three weeks is a step but it is not the full package. The group stages are an unnecessary addition to a championship that is already horrendously boring for the majority of the season. Let’s be honest, the provinces are a snore-fest and the season tends to limp along until August. Round-robin games will add a couple of tasty games, but dead-rubbers will rear their ugly heads too.

Longford CPA rep Pauric Gill, who opted off the county panel at the start of 2016, is emphatic in his appraisal of the situation: "There are no merits to Duffy’s proposal other than a financial one by providing for more games to make up for falling attendances. It doesn’t help alleviate the overall fixture crisis.

"Bringing the All-Ireland final forward by three weeks is a start but it does nothing to address the issue whereby club players are sitting idle for the months leading up to that point. What we need to see is real change - scrapping the pre-season tournaments would be a start, Dublin are playing their third string team in it, which shows the regard in which it is held.

"We need to implement a staggered inter-county/club structure throughout spring and summer. The CPA were left with no choice but to come out against it. We have 15,000 members and growing daily and their best interests are not going to be served by allowing this come to pass.”

February

Inter-county provincial championships played in their entirety

March

Club Only

April to end of May

All-Ireland series group stages

Two groups of seven in hurling; four eights in football - Group winners seeded; played week on week

June

Club month

July to mid August

All-Ireland QF, SF and finals

September to mid November

Finish club, including provincials and All-Ireland finals

For the sake of the sport, it’s time to scrap the status quo, and start from scratch. The proposal above retains the sacred provincial cows, but streamlines it to an exciting, month-long rollercoaster. The leagues are now part of the championship in the form of group stages, and everyone has a clearly defined calendar, while the GAA gets more games. Whether the top four from each group of four go through, or just the top two, they will then be seeded for the All-Ireland knockout series based on where they finish.

Meanwhile, the club has bulletproof windows where they get exclusive access to their players, meaning county stars can go back to where it all started without a shadow hanging over them. Better still, the GAA can now look to promote the club.

In 2016, I watched St Vincent’s vs Ballymun in the Dublin club semi-final and I think I counted 14 inter-county players on the field - most of whom are on the Dublin panel. The remainder are lads who have played in All-Ireland club finals in the previous four years. Who wouldn’t want to watch that?

Think of all the amazing Kilkenny club championship games down the years with Henry Shefflin, Michael Fennelly and Co up against Jackie Tyrrell and Eoin Larkin, for example. If promoted correctly, there’s a wealth of entertainment out there. Contrary to what we have right now, this would serve the needs of the masses.

The GPA don’t feel this proposal is adequate, as Dermot Earley explained, neither do the CPA. The two bodies representing players are saying no. So Duffy’s proposal had to be opposed for the good of all.

Off The Ball

Newsletter

The very best bits of Off The Ball delivered every week