KEVIN EGAN argues that Offaly must take a firm stand against the proposed changes to the National Hurling League format.
Exactly 100 years after the 1913 Lockout, the seminal event in Irish industrial relations history, the world is a very different place. That said, you still don’t have to look very far to find those who would believe that the owners and capital classes rule the world with an iron fist, and neither is it difficult to find right wing ideologists who would argue that high wages are a big factor in our current crisis, as they feed into the high cost economy that makes it so difficult to create wealth.
Far be it from a sports hack such as yours truly to take a side in an emotive debate such as the argument over the most successful and ethical economic ideology. However on a smaller scale, it’s impossible not to notice the current industrial unrest in Ireland’s secondary schools, where a work-to-rule action from the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland threatens to cause real disruption in the coming weeks.
In a time when many teachers have 2013 salaries and Celtic Tiger debts, it’s understandable that they’ve undertaken an action that will maintain their income – however it’s also understandable that to those on the outside looking in, their chosen form of protest is not exactly a bold statement of resolve and determination.
Undertaking to work as little as possible for the same money is what a lot of people do as a matter of course anyway. At the moment, unless you are a teacher, student or parent directly affected by this action, you probably don’t pass too much remarks and you’ll just carry on as normal.
This is the lesson that Offaly GAA authorities must keep on board in the next week. Small protests just don’t get noticed.
The proposed change to the National Hurling League format, where Limerick and Cork would be moved up to a new, eight team division 1 and Offaly would take their place in a reformed division 1B alongside Wexford, Carlow, Antrim, Laois and Westmeath, is nothing more than a political stroke designed to placate Limerick and Cork, who’ve been happy to drive this and, in the process, cast any idea of sporting integrity out the window.
Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that the current system is not broken, as evidenced by the fact that teams in the lower divisions had plenty of success this summer. Let’s also overlook the fundamental unfairness of some teams getting seven or more preparation games, while others will have to make do with five.
Let’s even ignore the sheer and brazen grubbiness of it all, where Limerick and Cork will have their coffers boosted by larger home crowds while other counties such as Offaly will pay a huge financial price for this gerrymandering. It is fundamentally most unjust because teams have not had the opportunity to know that this was coming and to treat their season accordingly.
In 2013, Offaly knew that they had drawn Kilkenny in the Leinster championship and that in all likelihood they would then go into the first round of the qualifiers. Who’s to say that if they knew this was coming, they wouldn’t have aimed to peak in the spring and target the league instead of the championship, for the future benefit of the county? It would have been an entirely rational train of thought and if Offaly hurled in Parnell Park against Dublin as well as they did in O’Connor Park against Kilkenny, they would now be in the top flight themselves.
It’s clearly incorrect to move the goalposts like this without any notice, but that won’t trouble the eight counties now in the top flight, who will know that they’re guaranteed more games and more home games.
This proposal is also likely to be supported by those counties down along the line, such as Carlow and Westmeath, who’ve also been moved up one level. When it comes to the Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher counties, they too will probably support the measure since they know that supporting Frank Murphy in any of his endeavours is a lot less hazardous than opposing him.
And since one thing we can be sure of in the GAA, and indeed in Ireland in general, is that fair play is grand but pulling a stroke is much better altogether, this measure will pass when it goes before Central Council tomorrow week. That much is a done deal.
All of which leaves Offaly and Wexford in a situation where there are two possible courses of action. They can opt for the ASTI route – lots of rhetoric, making a mild nuisance of themselves in the corridors of the Leinster Council and Central Council, but ultimately going along with everything because you can only swim against the tide for so long.
Alternatively, they can think like Big Jim Larkin, and decide that a line must be drawn. If this proposal is allowed to pass, any action taken must be something that makes people sit up and take notice. More importantly, it must be something that shows the earnestness of the belief that underpins it.
Quite simply, the only logical course of action would be to withdraw from the NHL.
There would be some short term pain, however this too could be avoided. Laois, Antrim and Wexford are all in the same situation. If those four counties grouped together and played a round robin league among themselves – play each other home and away, six games in total – it would be a far more beneficial series than the competition they are set to enter.
Supporters would rally around a county that is not just taking their medicine like good little lemmings, but instead taking a stand against the bigger powers and making it clear that we may not have the influence of a county like Cork, but that we will not be walked all over either.
Many of the readers of this paper would have been part of the on-pitch protest in 1998, still one of the most memorable and significant displays of supporter-power in the history of the GAA. I left the famous field just before 9pm that night, despite the fact that I had a college exam on the Monday morning.
The sense of standing up for ourselves that was shared by everyone energised the whole county, and played a part, however small, in the subsequent victories over Clare at Thurles and over Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final.
The people are ready and willing to stand behind a county that stands up for itself. The next few weeks will reveal if we are that county, just as we were 15 years ago.