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Shoulder Charge: Time for GAA to tackle team naming issues

LAST SATURDAY at GAA Congress in Laois, a host of motions (77 in fact) were up for discussion.

The square ball rule will be consigned to the waste bin in another drastic alteration of the rule books; it will soon be a requirement for players to wear gum shields during matches and during training; the winter ‘training ban’ has been relaxed; and eligibility laws for inter-county transfers were adopted.

Interestingly, a motion to streamline Congress by reducing the number of delegates by one third was defeated 64-36, in a vote that, if successful, would have been the GAA’s version of the turkeys voting for Christmas.

GAA Congress is the ultimate talking shop, though some of the debate is quite interesting when the waffle is peeled away.

Since the weekend, I have happed upon several quotes from high-ranking GAA officials that have really caught the eye.

None more so, though, than those of the GAA’s Director General Paraic Duffy and Ryan Feeney, the Ulster Council’s Head of Public Affairs, in relation to either the naming of teams in the lead-up to games or, the old media bug bearer, the changes to the match programme.

On the Thursday evening prior to all seven of Tyrone’s National Football League Division 2 games this year, their team was emailed to the media by county PRO Damian Harvey. This week, Harte was lauded by some in the media for his stance.

In rugby, it is common practice for the provinces and countries to name their teams the week before the games. Rarely, indeed aside from an injury, the teams will line out as selected.

It allows, not only the poor souls of the press corps, but the general public, Joe Soap whose very life revolves around his beloved team, to engage in a debate about the team, how they’ll fare out, the various match-ups. All without the guesswork that has become an all-too-common trait in Gaelic Games, particularly when it comes to the Championship.

Before two of Donegal’s televised National League games, there was nothing forthcoming from the PR department for the broadcasters, who contacted this and other newspapers in the county in a bid to source what should have been a basic requirement for their showcasing of the games.

“I think that, given the current recession and the fact that it will cost people hard-earned money to attend games, the least we can do is try and make the matches as appealing as we can by providing fans with as much information as possible. This all helps to add to the colour and excitement of the championship season,” Paraic Duffy was quoted as saying earlier this week.

Ryan Feeney went a step further in his opinion.

The Ulster council man reference the match-day programmes, which have been a source of angst for journalists for some time now. At club level it is not uncommon to be given a team only to find that, say, the poor sod you’ve down as being sent off was actually the tame number 4 rather than the rugged number 2.

“Everyone wants to know who will be playing in the matches. Even when they buy a programme at a match venue there is no guarantee that the team they read will be the same as that which plays and that is not always helpful,” Feeney said.

It must be particularly frustrating for supporters, who might not have a pen on them to cross off the various changes in their programme.

Feeney continued: “We are all aware that managers must, of necessity, have a tactical plan which can involve certain players being given key roles, but I think we must also take into consideration the paying public.

“After all, they foresake the opportunity to watch the game from the comfort of their armchairs so they should be treated with as much respect as possible.

“It is important to bear in mind, too, that by actually attending games, followers are paying admission money which is subsequently channelled back into clubs to assist with development plans.”

Last year, Glenswilly won a historic first ever Donegal senior championship title. There was a further little nugget of history in 2011 as, for the first time, the winners’ medals were personalised with their name and number inscribed on the back as a lasting memory of what was an emotional day in Ballybofey.

But all the way from first round to last, full-back Eamon Ward was named among the subs at number 20, with a certain Michael Murphy also listed as a Fir Ionaid, wearing the number 18 shirt.

The result is that Ward now has a Donegal county championship medal with the number 20 inscribed upon it, the talismatic Murphy, whose masterclass won the county final, has one with 18. There could have been no surprise when it came to the throw-in and both started.

The match programme from last year’s county final doesn’t show neither Murphy nor Ward in the starting 15’s graphic. Rather, their names will have been inputted by a biro, what should have been a treasured memento of a historic day now marred in a way by the absence of prominence for two of the team’s most influential figures.

Perhaps in the case of both the naming of teams to heat up the build-up to games, a move that would surely enable the marketing gurus, make things even more attractive, and the subsequent dilemma that are the team pages in the match programmes, either Duffy or Feeney could take their views as a proposal to the 2013 Congress.

PLAN B!

IT’S not too often you see fans of professional sports team spilling onto the pitch to celebrate victory in a big game.

On Tuesday night, though, Reading FC fans poured jovially onto the pitch at the Madejski Stadium after their 1-0 win over Nottingham Forest secured their return to the Premiership. It was awash with delerious fans as they toasted their success.

Players, fans, management embraced. This is professional soccer, which had seemed to become detached from its fans in recent years.

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Pitch invasions used to be all the rage in Gaelic Games, Croke Park’s hallowed sod used to be flooded by its people as they celebrated September glory.

“I as much as the next man appreciate and value tradition but not of the variety that endangers life and forces defeated players to sprint from the field of play,” said outgoing Association President Christy Cooney at the weekend’s Congress, at which he spoke of the recent abolishing of the post-match invasions.

“The post match scenes which have accompanied the last four senior inter-county finals more than vindicated the stance we took – one which was unpopular at times – but the safety and well being of players and supporters and nothing else, was the motivation behind doing what we did.”

The scenes after last July’s Ulster final will live long in this writer’s memory. Too young to really grasp what it had all meant in ‘92, this was the first ‘big’ title win for the county in my time. Looking down at St Tiernach’s Park’s pitch, covered in tearful men, women and children in green and gold was something to behold.

One of the abiding images from the All-Ireland final was of this stable’s other Gaelic Games columnist, Declan Bonner, sprawled on the Hogan Stand sideline and having to haul himself up as Tommy Sugrue’s final whistle saw Tir Chonaill take over.

“I was laying on the ground and men were jumping off the fence around me everywhere!” Declan remembered this week.

“Sometimes in the 80s, you knew there wasn’t long leftwhen you had to beat four or five supporters on your way into a score!

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“Wild horses wouldn’t have held them back, but it was no harm. On an All-Ireland day or an Ulster final day it’s a great scene. It’s always great to see those images coming back.”

Sometimes, the old ways are hard to beat. Here still sits a fan of the good old fashioned Plan B!

 

Donegal supporters climb a fence to get to the pitch after the 2011 Ulster Final win over Derry.

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