The GAA is a deeply dysfunctional organisation. There. It’s been said. This isn’t an attack, a tirade, or even a rant. It’s simply, as Buff Egan would tell us, a fact of life.
I’ve got news for you too, it’s not on its own. The FAI, the IABA, Athletics Ireland, and even the IRFU are just as dysfunctional as their brethren in Croker.
It goes beyond sport too. Our system of government, our health system, our education system, our media and our system of law are all deeply flawed and inept organisations that cannot be cured. They are, for all intents and purposes, irredeemable and unmanageable behemoths.
What makes them so is the one thing that they all have in common; they are populated and run by humans. Normal, selfish, idealistic, corruptible, noble, idiosyncratic and malevolent humans. They could be no other way, yet this is in no way an excuse for them all being the way they are.
How do I know this? Well, I’ve watched ‘The Wire’. Three times.
It’s ten years ago since The Wire left our television screens and there is no other drama that captured the fallibility of humans better than this sociological examination of the various facets of life in Baltimore. That’s Baltimore, Maryland as opposed to Baltimore, West Cork.
The drug trade, Baltimore schools and the Baltimore Police Department are all very real yet fictional examples of human failure. They give occasional flashes of hope before all the optimism is unceremoniously smashed on the rocks of systematic dysfunction on the grandest of scales.
Much like winning All-Irelands, your social role is defined by where you’re born, and, sometimes, who you know.
Generally, the wrong people get promoted, statistics are chased as opposed to real crime, money is poured into the wrong areas, perception is much more important than reality while the simplest of solutions is often swallowed by that great abyss of bureaucracy. The higher you rise, the more disconnected and compromised you become.
Someday there’ll be a chance for a full-on casting of comparative GAA and Wire characters. Once Joe Brolly gets sorted. He’s either Omar, the show’s version of Robin Hood; a gangster with a conscience “a man gotta have a code”, no matter how hypocritical that code is, or else he’s Jimmy McNulty, the highly intelligent detective who causes bedlam when he gets bored as he puts his own narcissism above everyone else “what the f*** did I do?”.
This summer has laid bare some of the most flagrant paradoxes and flaws of the GAA. At a time where the lot of the club player is reaching a point of critical mass, the new inter-county senior championships have pretty much killed off club activity during the greatest summer that there has ever been. But because the All-Irelands are earlier, everything will be ok. Go figure.
These extra fixtures have been entertaining and engrossing, but it seems that nobody considered the extra cost of these fixtures on the ordinary punters, and definitely not on the families. Surely for the provincial hurling competitions there could have been deals in place to, you know, encourage people to attend? Try and sell the tickets beforehand as opposed to treating all the games equally.
Season tickets have been in place for a long time now and even if they were the cause of the ‘Newbridge or Nowhere’ saga, they have been a good thing. It’s staggering that nobody seemed to think that charging €50 or €60 for four games in Leinster and Munster would be more appealing than paying €80. That nobody thought that rewarding loyalty and support would lead to bigger crowds.
The people who make these decisions are often accused of living in ‘Ivory Towers’. They don’t. They all started out as volunteers with their clubs and have undoubtedly given much of their free time for the good of the association.
They have, however, just like in ‘The Wire’, become disconnected from their base as they have risen through the ranks. Victims of relativity as much as anything else but, nonetheless, chronically disconnected.
How else could you explain the undermining of the Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cups, the playing of league hurling in January, the surrendering of September to rugby and soccer, the continuation of the farce that is the Black Card, Ladies Football and Camogie’s continued disdain for dual players, frees in football not been taken from the correct position, Croke Park being both home and neutral for the Dubs, the lack of promotion of hurling? How else could you possibly explain the Liam Miller fiasco?
The higher you rise the more blind you become. And yet, the masses have their problems too, despite their penchant for preaching. The expectation of being able to jump into a car and land right next to a stadium without a modicum of hassle, for example.
Even the players do. They want to be both amateur and professional, depending on what suits them at the time. It’s just because they’re all human too. Fallible, contradictory, volatile. Just like in ‘The Wire’.
But, at the end of the day, it is what it is. It should, of course, strive to do better. But we’ll always have the games, the players, the skills, the excitement. Once the business end of the season is over we’ll return to the heart of the matter; the clubs. They’re dysfunctional too. Visceral, political monsters. But without them there would be a real void. Everywhere. Don’t forget it.
In the interim, as the climax of the season approaches, what are we to do? Just sit back and “let the great world spin”. Because, as Avon Barksdale of The Wire would tell us “the game is the game”.