What the GAA can learn from the Darts split

 

The GAA could learn lessons from the split that happened in Darts

THIS week, the World Darts Championship started in the Lakeside Country Club in Frimley Green. No, wait! The World Darts Championship is over, having been won by Adrian Lewis two weeks ago in Alexandra Palace, London.

No, actually, there are now two World Darts Championships, as a result of a fractious split that occurred in 1994 and has left the world of Darts a much bloodied and wounded sport.

To make a long story short, in the 80s, the golden age of darts, men like John Lowe, Eric Bristow and the like became household names as darts became a popular spectator sport.

Somewhere along the line however, these players felt they weren’t getting a fair slice of the TV cake and split from the BDO to form the fledgling PDC, or Professional Darts Corporation.

The following year, puzzled TV audiences were faced with a bunch of complete unknowns all throwing darts for the title of World Champion, while the elite players were snapped up by SKY who offered mega bucks to set up a rival World Championship which would take place just before the official one.

The PDC then set up a premier League of darts which takes the top eight players and has them playing each other each Thursday night from February until April with top four semi and then a final on the last night.

These are packed events in massive arenas around the country with all the glitz and glamour associated with the PDC way of doing things.

Rugby is also split between two associations, though this one goes right back to 1895 and a row over whether or not to pay players traveling expenses.

The northern clubs decided to break from Rugby Union and with a new governing body, rules changes have occurred over century which have seen the two games move further away from each other on the field as well as in the board room.

Despite the advent of a full professional Rugby Union game, the merger has been slow to occur because both codes seem to be happy with their game and no one is busting their gut to reconcile the two sports.

So what has all this got to do with the GAA?

Back ten years ago, when relations between the GPA and GAA were at a tense stage, yours truly was chairman of the GAA appointed Players’ Committee; an advisory group set up to look at player welfare and to make proposals to improve the lot of county teams.

As such, I was party to the initial, very tentative approaches made by the GAA to the GPA and at times, you felt that the entire future of the association was tied up in the talks that were taking place between the two sides, Liam Mulvihill, Sean McCague, Danny Lynch (GAA PRO) and myself on one side and Dessie Farrell and his men on the other – one of them was always a solicitor.

At one point, during a particular testy exchange, the GPA boys walked out of the meeting and asked for a time out.

The talks had broken down because they had suggested that a precedent had been set the previous autumn when what was left of the Coca Cola International Rules sponsorship money had been divided among the players. In essence, they were proposing that because this part of GAA ideology had been conceded; for the following championship, all sponsorship and TV money should go to the players.

The next bit was pure drama. Mulvihill, who had been writing notes up until now, looked up, stared them in the eye and stated. ‘I don’t care about precedents, or law, or anything, There will be no money going to the players. Simple as that’.

The GPA’s response was; ‘Well, what happens if we refuse to play?’ Mulvihill looked up again, cold as ice and retorted, ‘Well then, we close down the championship altogether.’

Silence. Then they asked for a time-out.

The conversation which took place among the three of us during this intermission was as fascinating as it was chilling. Liam Mulvihill was starting to believe that the GPA were considering setting up a new, fully professional set up which consisted of the top county panels.

He felt that if they created a new association, they would get a TV deal and sponsorship and that they could play their games at rugby grounds, or hire out GAA grounds to play their championship.

He suggested that this new arrangement would see players emerge through the ranks of clubs, play for a few years for their county and then join the new breakaway elite association where they would turn their back on the club scene and become fully fledged contracted players to the club to which they would transfer.

It was a terrifying proposition coming out of the mouth of perhaps the most measured man in the GAA and in these uncertain times, when it was difficult to gauge the support the GPA had, there was no guarantee that it would not happen.

At this stage, the GPA were still outside the door of the meeting room.

That 15 minutes was a long one. We decided not to peer out to see if they were still outside, but waited to see if they would return to the meeting.

We knew that if they decided to walk out of Croke Park that night, we were in for a possible Rugby League, or PDC scenario. Thankfully they returned, and the rest of the meeting took place within a more civil climate with nothing conceded.

There was no way of knowing after that night what the future would hold for the GAA. At that stage, the GPA was a novelty and to an extent, had a valid cause for existence.

The players were not treated with the respect they deserved for their efforts and many county board officials and senior GAA people on Central Council had a sneaking regard for their courage in standing up to the big boys.

A breakaway into an elite county league and championship might not have been the pie in the sky some might have thought.

So back to the darts and a quick guide as to who you should support. If it’s entertainment, razzamatazz, first time doubles, crowd theatrics, over 100 three dart average, tension and pure theatre, then the PDC is the one for you.

If you’re into earthy, decent, up and coming, pub maestros who are in touch with the grass roots and have come up through the ranks, then tune into BBC2 for the BDO event. The top BDO men have refused to be tempted by the lure of the money and the lights.

Men like Ted Hankey, Tony O’Shea and Scott Waites, who came from 8-0 against the PDC’s James Wade last year in the Grand Slam to win the final. The Grand Slam is the one event which combines players from the two codes.

But one man stands tall if we are to compare the values to GAA and that is BDO number 1 and world champion Martin ‘Wolfie’ Adams.

He refuses to have anything to do with the PDC, claiming it is entertainment rather than sport and has turned down big money invitations to the Grand Slam because he says he is a grass roots BDO player and wants to remain loyal to the association which promotes darts in the pub leagues round the country rather than the one which creams off the top players and puts nothing back.

He still plays for his pub team, Rigby’s in Market Deeping. He’s going for three in a row. Hope he makes it.

 

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