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Roy Curtis: Puritanical player rules yet another nail in lid of GAA’s coffin

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Fun police will send young men fleeing into the arms of rugby and soccer, as slowly but surely the joy is being sucked from our games

Joyless, rigid, authoritarian, controlling, a dismal list of Orwellian rules and no-can-dos that just about stops short of demanding the sunlight be evicted from the skies.

Eleven commandments presented on the modern-day equivalent of tablets of stone – a social media post – that could have been authored by some drear, puritanical deity.

To paraphrase: Thou shalt not drink … thou shalt not see the world … thou shalt not fornicate with other sports … I am the club, and you shall have no other club Gods before me.

Yet, this miserable document lists neither the non-negotiable principles of some extreme cult nor the forbidding mission statement of a high-security penitentiary.

Though it reads like the first draft of a dark novel about life in some grim and humourless dystopia, it is, in fact, a glimpse into the everyday reality for too many amateur athletes.

A thoroughly depressing window into a mindset that has invaded the GAA’s bloodstream like a pernicious and highly-contagious virus.

An eye-watering, mind-scrambling grab-bag of the kind of demands made of one club’s players if they wish to lace their boots for their local team in the season ahead.

Leaked – presumably by a horrified recipient – this players’ charter is further evidence of the ever more po-faced, self-destructive image Gaelic games presents to the world.

Read the relevant document for yourself elsewhere on these pages and wonder how it has come to this.

A cursory scan would have most rounded, intelligent young men running a million miles, or at least out the gate of the GAA club and up the road to the nearest soccer or rugby team.

Those of us whose affection for hurling and football runs to oceanic depths are finding it increasingly difficult to recognise a dear but changed old friend, one who has submitted to a seemingly endless series of sense-of-humour bypasses.

Managers commissioning walls around their training facilities to keep prying eyes away, centres of excellence reimagined as some top-secret North Korean uranium-enriching facility.

Preparation for matches – even at junior level – frequently assuming the sober, fanatical, absurdly solemn air of a military junta wargaming the invasion of a neighbouring state.

As Ireland’s professional rugby players happily tweet pictures that show them unwinding over a few post-match glasses of wine or beer, a culture of prohibition demands the blacklisting of a hurler or footballer who samples a wine gum within two months of the season’s first outing.

Ireland’s rugby players enjoy a beer after their World Cup victory over eventual Webb Ellis winner South Africa

Adults treated like children. Personalities reduced to automatons. Leisure time recalibrated as an unsmiling endurance test.

For years now, players wishing to be part of certain club or county panels are compelled to sign up to ‘codes of conduct’ that reduce them to indentured slaves, a manager’s plaything.

Alarm bells are flashing across the GAA landscape.

The traditional All-Ireland calendar shredded, a sacred scripture splintered, the August and September stage wilfully handed over as a recruiting platform to rugby and soccer.

The two pivotal games of the year, Mardi Gras national celebrations, unfolding even as tens of thousands of would-be fans take their midsummer holiday on sun-kissed Mediterranean beaches.

As kids are seduced by Rugby World Cup glamour, blanket coverage of the Premier League, as The Aviva is packed for an FAI Cup final and a Leinster/Munster derby, the GAA’s marquee teams are decommissioned and hidden for more than six months.

Colm O’Rourke is just the latest concerned voice to question the wisdom of what amounts to madness piled upon insanity atop a depressing and inexplicable leadership void.

When the big games eventually throw-in, a more deep-rooted malaise announces itself.

Gifted players are denied the opportunity for self-expression, coaches impose tactical straitjackets, the kind of enslaving, risk-averse, possession-obsessed systems that have transformed football into a septic and blistered eyesore.

A festival of lateral hand-passing and recycled possessions; yawning audiences sedated by the nothingness of it all.

A culture of paranoia that encourages the naming of dummy teams and imposes media bans, denying supporters access to the stars, starving the games of promotional oxygen.

As rugby’s popularity soars, the GAA thrashes about with its eyes wide shut, extracting much of the essence that has for so long made it a special part of Irish life, a cultural treasure house in every village and town and city suburb.

Little wonder there is anecdotal evidence of supporters opting against renewing Premium or season tickets, of sponsors increasingly alarmed at their reduced exposure over newly condensed seasons.

At times, the decision making is so utterly counter-intuitive that it can feel like some rugby or soccer Manchurian Candidate has infiltrated the corridors of power.

There is, of course, outstanding work unfolding at underage level, a remarkable flood of volunteers passing on their knowledge, instilling a sense of belonging in tens of thousands of would-be David Cliffords or Cian Lynchs.

GAA clubs remain priceless community pillars, a refuge in times of difficulty, the billboard on which a parish’s joy is splashed on those euphoric, landmark days of achievement.

Many legislators are bursting with fresh, vibrant ideas, itching to showcase their progressive vision.

And there are still afternoons – a flurry of thrilling hurling ties this past summer, a football final for the ages – when the games seizes our senses and transports us to the stars.

Against that is set a prevailing managerial culture that seems designed to extricate every granule of pleasure from playing or spectating.

Of course, sacrifices and compromises are involved when any team sets out on the season’s long road.

But Semple Stadium is not Shawshank; the road to Croker should not be confused with the forbidding journey to Colditz Castle.

And footballers and hurlers should never feel the need to hang Rita Hayworth posters on a dressing room wall to disguise the escape routes they are tunnelling from the clutches of the GAA fun police.

Club’s list of demands

1. Anyone planning trips to Australia/America and Canada etc for the summer can’t be part of the senior panel for 2024.

2. No holidays during championship (June-October) unless approved by management and the leadership group. Unapproved holidays means suspension or removal from panel.

3. No drinking during championship (June-October) unless approved by management and the leadership group. Unapproved drinking means suspension or removal from panel.

4. Pre-Xmas individual running/conditioning programme for listed training panel. All needed to be logged on App.

5. January-March (collective running and S&C work). Mandatory attendance and fitness test markers (pre, middle and end).

6. Logging of activity on the app for all (all other panel members) on a consistent basis > 90pc

7. Commitment to treating league 2024 like championship in all aspects of prep.

8. Commitment by team to lead the team fundraising activity (15k) and to players’ training fund thereafter.

9. Commitment from Dublin and Limerick lads to attend training once a week come January.

10. No other sporting commitments past June. Soccer, golf, rugby, athletics etc.

11. Commitment to train at the highest levels – all of the time. Commitment to achieving fitness and conditioning targets as set down by management.

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