Belfast Telegraph

After giving green light to black card, GAA deserves praise for tackling club fixtures

By Declan Bogue

Around this time of year, when the action finally finds some reprieve at the fag-end of the club season, the GAA will go into hibernation and navel-gazing mode.

The last few winters have thrown up some interesting facets and debates.

Last winter was particularly gripping, with a succession of managers emerging on the back pages to lambast the GAA for considering tampering with the rules and introduction of a proposed black card.

Once Congress in Derry approved the black card, it was odd to see some of the loudest critics suddenly proclaim the new rule as a positive for the game.

This all occurred, of course, before a Championship season that gave us some of the most blatant and brutal examples of cheating that the game has witnessed.

Nobody could now, with credibility, oppose the black card measures.

Over the next month or so, the area to go under the microscope is set to be the establishment of a regular fixtures calendar.

The work of the Football Review Committee was originally a broad canvas, but given the scale of opposition to the reformation of the playing rules, it was felt last year that their findings on fixtures might be best held back for a year, lest the traditionally-conservative GAA voting public were confronted with too much change, too soon.

But there is an appetite within the GAA to formalise how clubs can be given some measure of fair play, with a mooted suggestion that a round of club championship games must be slotted into the months of May, June and July.

By the time the first weekend of August comes round, there are only eight teams left standing in the All-Ireland race for Sam Maguire. Once that engagement is cleared up, it would seem entirely sensible that club championships could be run off in reasonable time.

The recent visit of Donegal County Board figures to Croke Park was more interesting than might have been considered at the time. It was an obvious examination of why exactly they voted to delay the domestic club championship until the county team's involvement in the All-Ireland series came to a halt.

Clearly, such situations are not going to be tolerated.

In Owen Mulligan's autobiography launched last week, he speaks at length about not getting to play for his club enough down the years, especially if left on the bench for his county.

Within clubs, the feeling of apathy is even worse, with players caught in an eternal cycle of uncertainty as to where their next match will take place.

They might stomach it when their county bridges a long gap to their last All-Ireland, but entire seasons being lost to the reputed 98 per cent of the playing population is unacceptable.

There is a sense that this abuse of club players has pertained for too long.

Two huge changes in the GAA in two consecutive years might strike observers as entirely radical, but the necessity of both could supersede any concerns of moving too fast.

If some action emerges in the New Year on this, then the GAA will only really have addressed problem areas that have been left to fester for too long.

And for that, Liam O'Neill may emerge as a most unlikely reformist President.

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