Why do GAA teams have to win All-Irelands in order to justify player revolts?

Galway and Mayo were embroiled in conflicts with management this year

Why do GAA teams have to win All-Irelands in order to justify player revolts?

©INPHO/James Crombie

The surface review of the player revolts that dominated the tail end of the 2015 season, suggest that anything less than an All-Ireland title in 2016 will shackle both Galway and Mayo to the label of failure.

And in truth, that is an inescapable situation. Considering the measures undertaken to prematurely terminate the management structures, the players have inherited more responsibility than they would normally have whether they intended it or not. 

On the balance of things, the parting of ways in Mayo appears to have been more pleasant. At least as pleasant as it can be, considering the level of discomfort normally associated with situations such as this. 

It seems that once the co-management of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly realised that they players required change, they graciously accepted the vote of no confidence and stepped aside without much fuss.

The impasse at Galway by contrast, was considerably more painful. The protracted, prolonged and utterly public process which unravelled before Anthony Cunningham stepped down has left a stronger stain on the Galway set-up.

 

And by extension of that fact, the need for an All-Ireland victory is dire for them. 2016 will be the year they confront the gambles they made.

If they win, vindication will be the theme of their triumph and humble pie will become the staple for all critics and sceptics.

But what if they lose? It’s an outcome many believe to be inevitable in light of the sheer quantity of pressure that rests on the shoulders of the two sets of players.

Presumably, exhausted clichés will be resurrected in which the players will be compared to unruly children tossing toys from the cot. If Mayo get to the All-Ireland and lose, the sting will hurt but considering that they will have progressed one game beyond where they normally trip up, they might be able to contend with it.

Galway have a lot less leverage to play with. They have already proved that they can navigate a way to the final, meaning the Liam McCarthy cup is the only currency they are willing to trade with. To crumble at the quarter-final or semi-final would symbolise a total collapse. 

But I’ll ask the question again, what if they lose? In all sincerity, they are as likely as any of the other teams to lose. Succeeding with a player revolt does not grant them a protective cloak that will shield them from failure. 

All they can do is ensure that structures are in place which allows them to have the best possible chance of competing and winning. And in the case of Mayo and Galway, we have to believe that the panels felt those boxes weren’t ticked. Or if they were, it was with faded ink.

If you’re unhappy with the working conditions in your professional life, you would lodge a formal complaint so why should you settle for poor standards in sport? If anything, you have a greater entitlement to demand more.

Players undertake exceptional sacrifices in order to dedicate themselves to an inter-county team and when the level of deprivation is huge in your personal life, you need to feel assured that the time invested in other projects is worthwhile. 

Mayo were knocked out at the same stage of the All-Ireland championship this year as they were in 2014 which obviously telegraphed a sense of stagnation to the players. 

In today’s Sunday Independent, Mayo's Aidan O’Shea spoke about the sense of impending decline when Holmes and Connelly were appointed:

‘’When they came on board everything was different. Small problems started from the get-go with the appointment process and then grew from there as the year went on.’’ 

O’Shea didn’t elaborate on the ‘problems’ but we have to trust that they could not be resolved while the management remained in place.

The Galway debacle on the other hand is decidedly more puzzling. In terms of offering a reason for Anthony Cunningham’s resignation, the players have elected to remain silent. The exiled manager however, spoke out with venom in his letter of resignation which read:

"I consider this a kangaroo court decision, led by a core group of players orchestrated with the help of others outside Galway, motivated by a desire to unjustly extend their lifespan as inter-county players, placing personal agendas over the greater good of Galway hurling."

Cunningham led Galway to two All-Ireland finals in three years but again, we have to believe that the panel came to a collective conclusion that Anthony Cunningham was no longer the right fit for manager.

Undoubtedly, pundits will continue to demand to know the full reasons why the Galway and Mayo managements were sacked, but in an amateur sport the players are largely within their rights to keep their business under a blanket of hush. 

But the big question now is, what does 2016 hold for them? And how will they react if the ambitions aren't realised?