Belfast Telegraph

GAA authorities must start to listen and stop taking clubs and players for granted

By Declan Bogue

If some inter-county footballers and managers were unhappy with what they perceived to be an imbalance in the debate before the introduction of the black card, then they can have no such complaints after their feelings were sought on the second part of the Football Review Committee discussion document.

It shows that county players want to do one thing above anything else; play football. For the last few years an unhealthy distrust has festered around the intentions of county footballers, with some fears that they might even approve of being shielded from playing with their clubs.

Of course we know that Donegal have taken it to the extreme with their ban on the club Championship until they end their involvement in the All-Ireland series, but for the past few years county footballers have felt uneasy about playing even domestic league games without the imprimatur of their county manager.

This has led to situations where a player who might have got game time in the first two National League games but slipped off the team after that, would have had a total of two football games in almost 20 weeks. And that's the lucky squad members who got a taste of action, not the bench fodder who never got a look in.

In what other sport would this be tolerated? Given the workload that is expected of inter-county teams, a third of every panel could train five times a week, look after their diet and rest meticulously, yet all they can look forward to is some training after a league fixture when they didn't feature.

It seems they all found their voice in the recent Gaelic Players Association survey amongst its members. Bear in mind that this is the famous 2% of players who are said to ruin each summer for the 98% of club players.

When asked if each county should have their Intermediate and Senior Championships at semi-final stage by the time the All-Ireland quarter-finals roll around in the first weekend of August, 69% voted yes.

Asked if each county should have Championship matches in May, June and July, 74% said yes.

With such urgency and emphasis on getting matches played rather than waiting about, it would make for a condensed season. That in turn would get the All-Ireland club series wrapped up in the calendar year, rather than teams hanging around for two games in three and a half months. 79% of respondents voted in favour.

The challenge is now for the GAA to act upon the wishes of players – both those lucky enough to represent their county, and those not so fortunate.

It's time to stop taking clubs and players for granted.

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