Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Declan Bogue: Club fixtures are most important issue facing GAA chiefs

During the height of summer, nothing matters in the GAA while the crowds flock into grounds and players provide us with such rich entertainment.

With winter comes the study of GAA politics. County convention booklets are pored over by journalists in the hope of finding a hook to hang a story on.

County secretaries become the most important people in the world for a few fleeting weeks as their address to county conventions can quite often be an exercise in fluffing their personal ego.

And then the band strikes up again and the great GAA public don't give the administration of the Association a second thought. Or so it is meant to go.

This year could be different though. In fact, some of the most important moves in terms of playing Gaelic football and the organisation of the sport can shape the future of the GAA.

Derry are hosting the annual Congress in late March and among proposals forwarded by Central Council are sure to be refined versions of some of the suggestions made in the Football Review Committee report.

Already, the battle lines have been drawn between those that compiled the report, and those that manage county teams.

Unsurprisingly some managers, including Donegal's Jim McGuinness and Tyrone's Mickey Harte, have rejected proposals concerning rule changes.

Other less thoughtful contributions have questioned the need to change anything in the game of Gaelic football.

But the FRC report was a thoughtful and thought-provoking document. At present we have a game where foul play is not sufficiently punished. As a starting point, this is wrong.

The measures to counter this are both extreme (in enforcing substitutions for a yellow card), and not tough enough (moving the ball on 30 yards for preventing a free kick being taken).

Over the next few weeks, they will be refined and made more user-friendly. For the sake of referees, they have to be.

Perhaps the single most important change has to be the notion that a national body will decide the club playing programme. This comes as a massive relief for the vast majority of footballers the country over.

If only one recommendation is implemented at Congress, let this be the one.

In previous years, the power wielded by county managers has been an obstacle to change.

Between now and March, the opinions of managers and their contributions in the media will become ever more robust and direct.

Pressure will be put on county delegates to influence how they vote at Congress.

The next few weeks are set to become very interesting indeed.

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