GATHERED AT BALLYBODEN St.Enda’s GAA club on Monday to support the launch of the Club Players Association, an impressive cast of former inter-county figures put on an adaptation of Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen sketch.

“My club had to play three championship matches in a week!” said one.

“That’s nothing,” scoffed another, “I know a club that won their county title and had to play in the provincial championship the next day!”

“Luxury!” another may or may not have said.

“Our club players are thrown into a shoe box at the bottom of a lake, then forced to eat gravel for breakfast, before lifting dumbbells in the gym for twenty-nine hours a day and when they come home the county manager kills them and dances on their grave singing Hallelujah!”

*Shocked silence*

The attendees ranged from wise greybeards such as Liam Griffin and Martin McHugh to sharp-suited young gunslingers like Anthony Moyles and Aaron Kernan, but the anecdotes about the lot of the humble club player all had the tone of the misery memoir.

The life of the modern GAA foot soldier, with its pointless months of rainy drudgery, sounds like Angela’s Ashes on protein shakes.

The point was made: enough is enough. The movers and shakers behind the CPA had a clear message – Fix the Fixtures! – and a clear target: the all-powerful inter-county scene of which many of them were once a part.

Last Monday’s official launch of the GAA’s Club Players Association.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Secretary and driving force Declan Brennan suggested the All-Ireland championships could be done and dusted by the August bank holiday, clearing the summer stage for the clubs.

When the proposals of GAA director-general Paraic Duffy were put to him – involving a three week shortening of the inter-county season among other things – Brennan replied that they didn’t go far enough.

Though not exactly on a war footing (the CPA have already held ‘positive’ talks with Duffy), there was a definite sense of mobilisation in the air.

The worm had turned.

And it’s hard to argue about the righteousness of their cause. Talking to Moyles after the press conference, he pointed out that the needs of 98% of the GAA’s membership are being cast aside to serve the 2%, which is patently unjust, even if it sounds pretty much like the way modern society is organised in general.

Compressing the inter-county championships by almost two months would be great news indeed for club players, but might not be greeted with such enthusiasm by the GAA’s corporate sponsors and broadcast partners, who’d wonder why their brand exposure through the country’s biggest sporting property was being shrunk rather than grown.

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Nor would Croke Park decision-makers allow their sympathy for the grassroots to override the importance of their summertime juggernaut to the overall health of the association.

Tipperary and Kilkenny faced off in last year’s All-Ireland senior hurling final

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The championships are the GAA’s engine, driving its financial performance and acting as its most visible presence on the sports marketing landscape. Folding up its big top just when soccer and rugby are pitching their tents would be bad business.

While everyone seems in agreement that the CPA’s cause is right and fair, that alone doesn’t mean they will be successful.

Martin Luther King once said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” but he wasn’t talking about sport. The arc of the sporting universe is also long, but normally it bends towards cash.

Take events in Zurich this week. Not to suggest for a moment that a GAA Congress delegate would vote with the greed and self-interest of their Fifa equivalent (cough…), but the expansion of the World Cup is sporting capitalism in its purest form.

Fifa President Gianni Infantino

Source: Joe Giddens

Do we need a 48-team World Cup? No. Would it make it a better sporting competition? No. Would it make lots of money, not just for Fifa’s coffers, but for those previously excluded corners of the football world who will now get a piece of the action? Yes.

Deal done.

Páraic Duffy doesn’t quite work off the same neo-Blatterist playbook as Gianni Infantino, but he knows how the world works. His plan to sort out the GAA’s fixtures and structures quagmire, to be put to Congress next month, is clever.

There’s a nice juicy quarter-final group stage in the football championship to keep corporate Ireland happy. He’ll have another go at getting rid of replays, but the extra matches in the quarter-finals should please the bean counters at provincial and county level.

GAA Director-General Páraic Duffy

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

And to ease the plight of the poor, gravel-eating clubman, he’ll move the All-Ireland finals three weeks earlier.

It’s not quite what the CPA want, but its as much as the GAA can afford. Whether you’re in Croke Park or Zurich, you’ve got to keep your eye on the bottom line.

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