Joe Brolly

JOE BROLLY: The GAA needs to hold firm against the GPA

BEFORE the throw in at Tralee, the word filtered round the press box that the players would not be doing after match interviews, due to an ongoing dispute between the GPA and Croke Park over expenses and that as an act of solidarity, James Horan wouldn’t be doing interviews either. Never mind solidarity with the thousands of Mayo GAA people who travelled to Tralee in freezing, soaking conditions.

Or with the people of Ireland emerging from a grim pandemic. Or with the people of Ukraine, starving, living in terror and not knowing whether they will survive the day. No, our boys want a few more cent per mile, they will sulk until they get it and James Horan will sulk with them.

This is what the greatest community organisation in the world has come to. On the bright side, we didn’t have to endure James going through the book of GAA cliches, “Lookit, we are taking one game at a time”, “Lookit, we need to stick to the process and we didn’t do that out there tonight” “Lookit, we made life very hard for ourselves out there and when you miss the sort of chances we did you have to take a good hard look at yourselves.”

Tom Parson, the pampered Chief Executive of the GPA, wasn’t sure what to say about it.

The GPA has always presented itself as the protector of the county player. They have argued that the play/life balance is all wrong, that players are training too much and compromising their careers after football as a result.

The pretence they have maintained is that they are fighting to create a better balance in players’ lives. Yet here they are, fighting against an expenses cap of four county training sessions per week. Why? They are interested only in protecting and increasing their own funding. The more professionalised the game is, the more this suits them. They worry this four training sessions a week cap might just be the beginning. What if the GAA reduces this to three sessions in due course? What if the GAA really does start to restore the playlife balance? This will destroy any hope of a professional game and will significantly reduce the GPA’s funding.

By 2020, the GPA had over €7.5 million in revenue with an average salary of almost €70,000 for it’s ten full time employees and total assets of over €4 million (€4,253,444 to be precise). At their AGM Paul Flynn told the members that the GPA would “continue to put player welfare at the heart of everything it does.” What a load of crap.

The GAA’s introduction of a cap of four training sessions per week is a small but important step towards real player welfare.

Yet the GPA have gone into war mode over it. This is because real player welfare would make them redundant and stop the gravy train.

As for the game, the 12,000 sell out crowd endured a very poor one. Kerry have sold their great traditions of attacking, adventurous football. They have swapped glory for Paddy Tally. So, they hand-passed the ball backwards and sideways and ran about a lot going nowhere in particular, dropping back in numbers and refusing to kick the ball. When Paddy coached Derry (we went from Division One to Division Fpur in three seasons thereafter) he swiftly expelled our adventurous traditions and turned us into a safety first, defensive obsessed team. We are only just beginning to recover. In Tralee, only David Clifford was worth watching. The rest was dross. Starved of possession, he kicked three wonderful first half points. It was in the 23rd minute of the first half before the first long ball was kicked into him.

Kerry meanwhile kept Mayo in the game by hand-passing in tight areas and were repeatedly intercepted. The Kerry Golden Years are a distant memory.

Mayo missed two superb goal chances in the first half, both because of terrible technique. In the 21st minute, Aidan Orme was put through on his left foot by a deft handpass from Aidan O’Shea. He panicked and kicked the ball too soon, dribbling it wide on the near post.

The three basic rules of goal scoring were not observed: DUMMY, PAUSE, PASS TO THE NET IN THE DIRECTION OF YOUR RUN. In the 34th minute, it was Diarmuid O’Connor’s turn. Another interception after a bout of rehearsed Kerry hand-passing and he was clean through. Instead of the dummy, pause and pass to the net, he telegraphed it and kicked it at the ‘keeper.

Only an excellently worked goal (Clifford’s sleight of hand in drawing in the defence then suckering them with a disguised hand-pass being the key) was the difference at half time.

It was at this moment that Pat Spillane earned his corn. Marty asked Pat what the difference between the teams was so far. Pat said, “Well I suppose Marty, that the goal was the difference between the teams” in the manner of Stephen Hawking unveiling his theory of the universe.

If Mayo were a serious team, with the wind at their backs they should have won the game. Particularly given the mystifying fact that Kerry seemed to completely overlook the fact that they had the best forward of his generation at full forward. Ignoring Clifford was like Phil Jackson telling his Chicago Bulls “Don’t give the ball to Jordan.” As it was, David got the ball for the first time in the second half in the 47th minute, and promptly burned the Mayo defence for a magnificent score.

Then, like La Belle Dame Sans Merci, he stood on the square, “alone and palely loitering”. In the 55th minute, he politely allowed his brother to take a 14 yard free which Paudie kicked into the ‘keeper’s hands.

At that point the game was Mayo’s to win, but David Clifford’s patience with his brother has limits. From then on, the master was going to take responsibility.

David kicked a massive free against the wind, then won it with another easier one. It was a woeful game. More than that, it was depressing to see what has become of a once wonderful sport.

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