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Duffy ready for a power struggle

By Declan Bogue

It was always going to come to this. The dealings the Club Players' Association had with the GAA had been courteous until now.

When they wanted to host a public meeting, Croke Park chiefs opened their doors.

As fellow Monaghan men whose paths would have regularly crossed, Director-General Páraic Duffy and CPA Secretary Declan Brennan would have been friendly and respectful of one other.

Duffy met with the players' body and held discussions in that relaxed, informal way of his.

When asked the pointed question of whether they were happy with Duffy's painstakingly prepared reforms for the All-Ireland Championship at the official CPA launch, Brennan appeared to slightly contradict himself. He first stated: "In fairness, as a group, we haven't decided. We haven't put it on the table to discuss going forward."

However, he then added: "We don't think it goes far enough and we really, really think there needs to be radical changes."

Duffy had some tweaks that some might call radical - moving the All-Ireland final back by three weeks, abolishing replays unless they were provincial or All-Ireland finals, and the like.

But for the CPA, he didn't go far enough. So they made their play in a very deliberate way, designed to draw as much attention to themselves as possible. It was their storming of the Congress moment when they arrived as proper agitators.

We cannot underestimate the impact of their timing, releasing a document opposing Duffy's reforms with an embargo ensuring that it would splash across the back pages on the morning he was to unveil his Director-General's report.

Whoever is handling their dealings with the media is clued in. The man on the street might have just waited until Duffy's report was published, and then issued their reaction. This way, they not only took Duffy's thunder but it was like taking a man out the night before his wedding to get him drunk.

They knew what they were doing, even after Brennan and chairman Micheál Briody had met him three times.

All the CPA are seeking is fair play for the people they represent. Already, they claim over 15,000 have registered on their website, legitimising their views and providing them with a mandate to force change upon the GAA.

For years now, GAA officials have peddled the line that the club is the lifeblood of the Association. It's the sort of turn of phrase that sounds presidential and cannot be argued with. After all, the GAA is founded on the loyalty of local communities to their club, so the club is something we in the GAA all share.

But since the turn of the century, the inter-county game has assumed such a level of significance that the wishes of clubs have become irrelevant. On the day of the launch of the CPA, for example, we all could have sat there for three days exchanging war stories about kicking heels for 14 weeks without sight of a game, before being asked to play five matches in four weeks.

Lo, they have recognised the need to become unreasonable men. It's a philosophy of George Bernard Shaw: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Duffy is a reasonable man. He would not have attained high office without his warm personality and the intellect that he carries lightly.

And he was at pains yesterday not to make this a personal issue, revealing that the GAA's Management Committee took a discussion document of his and made it into a series of recommendations.

Understandably, he has put the ball back into the CPA's court by stating: "Their next move surely has to be to come forward with proposals. We need to hear their proposals. And to be fair to them, I don't mean they have to come up with them in a week or two weeks or three weeks. This is a complex issue. We have put our proposals into the public domain."

But because of the following, we should overlook any accusations of a lack of respect against Duffy.

The obvious point from Duffy's proposals is that while condensing the inter-county season into the current calendar - thereby creating more weekends for the Club Championship - it closes off more weekends for club league games.

This is not a theory. Take the 13-day rule that means players are exclusive to their counties for Championship games and apply it to the proposals and dates cited. The block out period increases by roughly 20%.

Dublin's Jonny Cooper played two league games for his club last year. Under the new proposals, that would become the norm everywhere. For that reason, the CPA have gone out on a limb. And they are right.

It is time for the dog to start wagging the tail again, but all eyes will be on the CPA to issue their proposals.

Belfast Telegraph

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