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Fri 30-Mar-2001 16:41
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Was Bill Shankly Right After All ?
The news that Carlow and Wicklow have withdrawn from a number of Allianz National Hurling League fixtures – coupled with the earlier exits of Louth and London – puts a big question mark over the viability of this year’s League competitions, An Fear Rua believes …
London and Louth clearly had to go, because they are both in geographies with confirmed cases of Foot and Mouth Disease. But, in the cases of Wicklow and Carlow, these were voluntary decisions, reflecting the importance of agriculture to GAA members in both those counties, and particularly sheep rearing. Indeed, over the years, Dubs supporters on The Hill have often claimed that a few of the Wickla’ men are reputed to form very close attachments with some of their sheep.
It was the late Liverpool soccer manager, the great Bill Shankly, who somewhat sardonically said that football was not a matter of life or death – it was more important than that! An Fear Rua humbly disagrees with the late Mr Shankly who – now that he is dead – may well have changed his mind on this point. Instead, AFR commends the players and officials of both counties for the self-sacrificing manner in which they’ve recognised that there
some things more important than Gaelic games, and these include the right of people to a decent livelihood.
If the signals coming out of Laois are anything to go by, it looks like they could be the next county to pull out of scheduled matches. Croke Park has already assured any counties not fulfilling fixtures they will lose the points but will not receive any further punishment, and special consideration will be given to counties who might lose out on promotion or relegation because of forfeited points.
Already, however, even the limited cancellations have wreaked havoc with Division II of the Hurling League. Of course, in the football-dominated world of the GAA, not too many ‘ofeeshals’ will lose any sleep over that. But what about the following week, when
fixtures start being cancelled? Maybe then we will see some further leadership from Croke Park on this issue – which, mind you – is not going to go away, and is only going to get worse. Even with only one case of the dreaded disease confirmed in county Louth it will be
Monday May 7th
before we can officially say we’re ‘in the clear’, unless another case is confirmed, because the EU clearance period for sheep is forty five days.
An Fear Rua believes the time is not far off when the Croke Park authorities will have to face up to the serious issues caused by the continuing threat of Foot and Mouth Disease and take some unpalatable, but necessary, decisions. In any threatened crisis, it is always better to make clear-cut decisions pro-actively in advance, than have even more unpalatable decisions forced on you later. The question facing Croke Park now, though, is not so much how best to tinker around with League points and League tables, but the more fundamental one:
‘What is the right thing for the GAA to do now to help defeat the threat of Foot and Mouth Disease?’
As the Carlow county PRO, that decent man, Tommy Murphy, has pointed out: ‘At this point, the playing of games is a long ways from the minds of many people around this area’. The ever-efficient Laois county PRO, Marsella Daly, is not the only GAA person to have expressed concern at the resumption of fixtures even after the confirmed case of FMD in county Louth: ‘Everyone wants to do the right thing. I really think we need more direction from Croke Park because it’s a massive debate around the countryside and the fear is palpable…’
The GAA is at the heart of rural Ireland. It was born there and nurtured there and its roots go deep. In many parts of the country still, the GAA is literally ‘the only game in town’. ‘Dis Great Assosheeayshun Of Ours’ needs a prosperous, vibrant rural Ireland. AFR is convinced the huge upsurge in interest in inter-county games in the Nineties – especially in hurling – was largely founded on a Celtic Tiger wave of prosperity in rural Ireland. Thus, we should be extremely wary of doing anything that would jeopardise that prosperity in the long run, for the short term sake of a few Division II League fixtures. As the Leagues move to their final stages, attendances at matches will increase and we could see quite large-scale movements of fans to and from venues. At the very least, a great deal of Garda and Department of Agriculture personnel might have to be diverted to cope with this, thus reducing the resources available in the front line of the struggle. We would never be forgiven – and we would not forgive ourselves – if this activity in any way contributed to a spread of FMD.
None of the options facing the GAA on this one are very palatable. They could continue as they are, fulfilling what fixtures can be fulfilled, with some counties forfeiting points and ultimately trying to deal sympathetically with cases either for or against relegation or promotion. This might work, if only one Round was left. But as more and more games get cancelled over several Rounds, the situation could become very complicated. So, there lies a pathway to uncertainty and unseemly rows.
Another option would be to abandon the Leagues now but allow counties who are willing, to continue to play fixtures in accordance with the Fixtures Schedule, but not recognise these as League matches, only ‘friendlies’. This would mean the end of the League as a spectacle or money-earner this year, but at least some semblance of activity would continue and counties would still have some realistic preparation for the championship.
A further option would be to postpone all League games indefinitely, ‘freeze’ the points tables as they are and see if the Leagues may be resumed later this year, more than likely with the Rounds being played off in ‘blitzes’ over successive weekends and perhaps with some lesser competitions being dropped to make room in the calendar. Not ideal, but at least, a proper programme would be completed and two counties could eventually be crowned as worthy League champions for 2001.
The final option, and this may be the right one, is to stop all the trucking around with cancelled fixtures and forfeited points and just quickly and cleanly declare this year’s Leagues to be null and void, and start again with a clean sheet next year. That way, every county gets a fair deal and the amount of ‘toing and froing’ by fans is completely eliminated. The great merit of this approach is that it clears the decks, helps reduce the danger of spreading the disease but – if we can get the clear forty five period – also helps to increase the chances of the Championship starting on time.
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